Organic Gardening
Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Flax to Linen: Breaking and Scutching


I first saw flax being processed for spinning about 25 years ago at the Museum of Frontier Culture near Staunton, Virginia. I really didn’t understand what I was seeing and thought it was an insane way of getting fiber for making clothes and other textiles. Now that I know what it is all about and I’ve actually done it at home, I think it is wonderful! I can plant flax in the early spring, harvest here in Virginia in June, rett it by laying it in the grass for a few weeks, then process it into fiber to spin. That processing, however, can be a bit tricky if you don’t have tools to do it.

Most importantly, you need to have a flax brake. Traditionally, it is a free-standing trestle style tool made out of wood. You can see mine in the photo. To operate, lift the handle and lay the flax straw across the surface. The handle has beveled wooden knives that, when dropped onto the surface, go between the fixed wooden knives in the body of the brake. The flax is caught between the two and, in the process, the outer and inner parts of the flax stalks are broken up, leaving the long fiber. In the photo you can see flax that has just been broken hanging on one side and the part that hasn’t been worked on yet, sticking out the back.

It doesn’t happen all at one time. You have to hit it many times to do the breaking. I begin at the middle of the stalks, then gradually pull it back as I work until I reach the end. Then I turn it around and hold what I just worked on while I break the other half of the stalks. Once done, the fiber will be covered with broken-up pieces of the stalks, which is called boon. Removing the boon is called scutching.

Traditionally scutching boards and wooden scutching knives were used to remove the boon by scraping the fiber. In the photo you can see my scutching board and knife. What is hanging on the scutching board is flax ready to be cleaned. I’ll scrape it with the scutching knife, then turn it around and scrape the other end. You could substitute any board and a piece of wood trim for your scutching tools.

You will find more information about flax brakes and scutching boards, including many photos, at Homeplace Earth. After scutching, the flax needs to be hackled to produce fiber ready to spin. I’ll write about that another day.

Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Organic Gardening the Easy Way, Part II: Raised Beds

In Part I of my easy organic gardening series, I wrote about growing vertically. Today I extol the virtues of raised bed gardening. It may seem an obvious choice to many Mother Earth News readers, but as I drive along country roads, I still see in-ground gardens all around. Clearly, not everyone has jumped on the raised-bed bandwagon.


Gardening in raised beds is easy and shows your garden to best advantage.

Why Garden with Raised Beds?

Photos Copied 091112 319

No way to garden!

It makes me cringe a little every time I see my neighbors’ tilling up their gardening space. Growing in raised beds is so easy I can’t imagine going back to the old way.But even if ease isn’t a concern for you, there are many other reasons to transition to raised beds. Here are ten quick ones:

1. You’re in control of your planting medium, and you can guarantee that your beds are filled with soil of the highest quality—no more rocks, heavy clay, or compacted soil. Just be sure you don't fill your bed with native soil. It may be full of pathogens. Instead, opt for bagged garden soil (not potting soil), compost, or compacted manure.

2. With raised beds, weeds are minimized, especially if you’re careful to keep the area adjoining your beds well-mowed.

3. Because your new soil is loose (you'll never compact it by walking on it), it's a cinch to pull what few weeds do pop up.

4. Raised beds are much more neat and attractive than in-ground gardens. They can turn your garden into a landscaping paradise.


This pansy quilt at the North Carolina Arboretum demonstrates just how attractive raised beds can be.

5. Raised beds maximize garden space. With no need for paths between every row, you can plant intensively, resulting in higher yields.

6. Raised beds mean better drainage, especially important if your area is susceptible to summer downpours.

7. You never have to till or plow up a garden space again.

8. Raised beds minimize bending when you plant, maintain, and harvest your garden. If you build your beds high enough, you may not need to bend at all, a big plus for those with physical limitations.

9. Raised beds are an easy solution for a sloping gardening area, eliminating erosion concerns.


Using raised beds to terrace a garden on sloping land

10.The  soil in raised beds warms more quickly in the spring, allowing your seeds to germinate faster and your transplants to thrive.

Types of Raised Beds

You can find lots of online diy resources for building your own raised garden beds—including Mother Earth News articles, so I won’t go into the how-to details here. Instead, let me share some of the many types of raised beds you can build or purchase.

As I wrote in my last blog post, I recommend investing as much time and money as you can afford when it comes to your garden. The payoff will be worth it. But I know from personal experience that sometimes a person has neither. If that's the situation you find yourself in, you can also go quick and dirty. 

 1. Simply mound new soil, preferably over a layer of heavy cardboard, where you want to plant. This may be the cheapest and quickest alternative but may result in the highest maintenance as your mound erodes.

2. Use limbs that have fallen on your property to outline your raised bed area. Another free (though more time-consuming) choice which also puts those downed limbs to good use. However, these borders will also require on-going maintenance.

3. Bricks and concrete blocks are long-lasting and don't require construction tools or expertise, a good option as long as you don’t have to carry them too far. Using concrete blocks requires rigorous leveling of your soil or your border will be uneven, unsightly, and subject to deterioration. I recommend using the rectangular 8x8x16" size. The larger square blocks take up too much valuable gardening real estate and force you to reach across a bigger expanse to get to your crop.


Marigolds planted in the openings of concrete blocks  adds beauty and encourages pollinators.

4. Landscape timbers are an attractive but more costly possibility. Stay away from creosote-coated railroad ties, though. The EPA’s website states that “creosote is not approved to treat wood for residential use, including landscaping timbers or garden borders.”

5. You may prefer to use long-lasting composite or plastic lumber, another lasting but expensive possibility.

6. Buy a raised-bed kit. If you have only a small space to devote to gardening and money isn’t a concern, this choice is almost as easy as mounding your soil. Some of these kits are on legs, which makes them perfect for people with arthritis, osteoporosis, or other mobility issues.

7. A less-expensive choice for small scale gardening is to use planters, plastic or fabric grow bags, or even a child-sized wading pool—just be sure to puncture the bottom with lots of drainage holes. More and more veggies are being developed for patio gardening, including some root crops.

8. Lumber is the traditional choice for raised beds. You can opt for rot-resistant wood such as cedar, redwood, or cypress, depending on accessibility—and the depth of your pockets. Or you can build your beds from 2x8, 10, or 12” pine boards. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have access to scrap lumber. The most long-lasting choice in this category is treated lumber. Some people advise against using treated lumber, but their concerns are often based on outdated information (see below for further discussion on this issue) or at least on extreme caution.

What’s the Big Deal about Treated Lumber?

The treated lumber controversy centers around the potential of the preservative chromated copper arsenate (CCA) to leach into the soil and thus into plant material. However, CCA was banned for residential use in 2003. Research on products now used to treat lumber indicates they're perfectly safe to use for vegetable beds.

As one blogger pointed out, though, there’s a difference in real risk and perceived risk. If you’re still concerned about leaching, you have a couple of choices. Don't use treated lumber at all, or line the sides (not the bottom) of your beds with heavy duty plastic. If you're unsure about the safety of treated lumber, my recommendation is to do your research so you can make an informed decision that suits you; that’s what we did. 

It may seem heretical among some natural living advocates, but our informed choice for raised beds was treated lumber. When we balanced the minimal risk with ease, treated lumber was a hands-down winner for us aging gardeners. We’re not interested in rebuilding our raised beds in a few years.

In Conclusion

Raised beds = high quality soil + fewer weeds + less bending + ease of use + long-lasting garden solution + higher yield + erosion control + more. An easy winner for easy gardening.

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, and modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts by following this link. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel, as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Growing Lettuce with EcoScraps Raised-Bed Garden Mix, Part 2

Earlier this spring, I started an experiment growing lettuce in two movable raised beds in my backyard. One bed had just plain potting soil and the other I used EcoScraps Raised Bed Garden Mix. I planted both beds with pelleted Salanova lettuce seed from Johnny’s Selected Seeds so I would have a more controlled environment. Unfortunately, my best laid plans were thwarted by our neighborhood cat Sammy who decided to use my EcoScraps bed as a litter box or just moved the light dry material around. Either way, I thought my experiment was over, but decided to let what seed hadn’t been disturbed continue growing. I also cast some radish seed to fill in the empty spots on both beds to see how they would do.


Sammy - our neighborhood kitty, experiment stopper, and mouse catcher

As you can see from the picture below that I took three more weeks later, the EcoScraps Raised Bed Garden mix (on the left) was much more successful compared to the plain old potting soil. To be honest, I’ve used potting soil in my raised beds before with better results than you see on the right. I also used this specific brand to start my Swiss chard this season and had the same stunted growth. I’m not sure what the issue is with this specific brand/version of potting soil, but I know I’ll be using EcoScraps in the future for such applications. We’ve been eating lots of lettuce and a few radishes from the EcoScraps bed, though the warmer summer temperatures have slowed down the emergence of much of the seed I’ve added since.


Raised beds with the EcoScraps mix on the left and plain old potting soil on the right.

Don Abbott (aka The Snarky Gardener) is a gardener, blogger, author, educator, speaker, reluctant activist, and permaculture practitioner from Kent, Ohio. Professionally, he's a software developer but spends his spare time producing food at Snarky Acres, his rented 0.91-acre urban farm. He is also the founder of the Kent, Ohio, chapter of Food Not Lawns and received his Permaculture Design Certification from Cleveland-based Green Triangle. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Clever Ways to Use Food Scraps

organic compost

The worst part about grocery shopping is when you hand over your credit card — food is expensive! What makes it worse is we don’t eat everything we buy. There are leftovers that can’t be saved and there’s usually a cucumber we find rotting away in the back of our fridge drawer. It happens to the best of us.

However, there’s a whole lot more that can be done with what we don’t use in our kitchen. Leftover produce can be used as compost or even replanted in your home garden. It’s a lot simpler than you think. With the cost of living these days, why not get the most out of your money?

Here’s a few tips, rules and hacks to remember when repurposing your food scraps.


Starting up your very own compost pile is easy. You’ll want good air flow, heat and moisture to encourage decomposition. Raking your scraps and soil regularly, as well as keeping them well watered in direct sunlight, will cover all your bases. You can eventually add this dark, rich soil to your garden, or use it to pot new plants.

Leftovers of almost any kind are welcome. Egg shells, fruit and vegetable peels, old tea bags, soured milk or stale bread are a few good starters. You should also add coffee grounds into your compost. They add nitrogen to your soil and help repel pests.

Let Your Fruits and Veggies Rise Again!

Growing your own food is so underrated. Why regrowing isn’t a part of every household backyard or kitchen counter is a mystery — because it’s simple, easy and more convenient than you might assume.

There’s a long list of produce scraps that can be repurposed, but here are a few popular ideas you might want to apply to your garden.

Celery: Behold the perfect beginner grower’s scrap: a celery stalk base. It’s one of the easiest vegetables to regrow at home, and a staple to keep in the house. Celery sticks make the perfect snacks, with peanut butter or ranch dressing, and also make great salad toppers.

When repurposing your celery scraps, cut off the base of the cluster. Place the base in a shallow bowl of warm water, and expose to direct sunlight for as long as possible each day. After a week, you will notice leaves sprouting up from your base, and it will be time to plant your growing celery stalks in potting soil. Water regularly, and enjoy!

Pineapple: What would look cuter than a pineapple top in a sunshine yellow pot? Besides being the perfect windowsill decoration, pineapple tops can eventually make a beautiful, long-lasting addition to your garden.

Most people have the best luck potting pineapple tops in sandy soil. Bury the head of your pineapple under the soil so the dirt covers everything below the base of the leaves. You’ll want to keep your plant moist, and in indirect sunlight for the first two months of growth. After the initial six to eight weeks, a more mature root system will begin to form and you’ll be able to replant your new pineapple tree.

Avocados: A staple super food, avocados can be cooked into brownies, used as salad toppers, blended into smoothies and added to any Mexican dish. A quaint little avocado tree wouldn’t be the worst thing to plant near a bright window or added to your backyard garden area.

After pitting an avocado, save the seed. Use toothpicks to suspend the pit in a shallow bowl of water, with half of the seed submerged. It may take a while for you to notice growth, but be patient. It can take almost six weeks to notice a stem appear on your avocado pit. After your stem grows to 6 inches, trim half of it away to leave about 3 inches. This helps stimulate growth, and before long your sprout with sport leaves and be ready to plant.

Potatoes: Another easy plant, the potato is the perfect addition to any food garden. After peeling your potato, find a peel about 2 inches long with multiple eyes visible on the skin. This peel can be planted immediately in direct sunlight, about 4 inches below the surface. It may take several weeks to notice growth, but a sprout should be visible in no time.

As we stated earlier, there is an endless list of vegetables and fruit scraps you can turn into growing plants. Do your research and find the foods that work best with your cooking style.

No more throwing away spoiled food in the trash — that must feel good! By repurposing food scraps in your garden — whether as plantings or as compost — you can save some money and feel good about helping the planet at the same time.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The Sun2Soil Employment and Crop Starter System


Explore the “Sun2Soil R&D Network” - including,, and Willi Paul Studio /

The Sun2Soil employment and crop starter system is asking for your support to fund agricultural testing and on-site research. Our goal is to test and produce the recipe for the membrane for small community farmers and food forests. Please check-out the campaign site for project goals and rewards for contributing to Sun2Soil at (7/12 – 8/31/17).

A companion site in the Sun2Soil R&D Network is the Regeneration Hub, a project that connects project holders, individuals, funders and communities to solve global challenges through regenerative practices. This is a long-term collaboration.

We are also networking with, an open-source digital platform where you and other changemakers can share skills, knowledge of community organizations and projects to help regenerate the world.

Finally, please view the project video and read about the “Sun2Soil - Dissolving Nutri-Membrane (SSDNM) - A Perm-Tech Innovation” vision (below) from Willi Paul Studio /

Sun2Soil R&D Network appreciates early stage support from:

Benjamin Faher, Top Leaf Farms
Peter Ruddock, California Food Policy Council
Charlotte Anthony, Hands on Permaculture
Jan Zellmann, Evergreen Labs

For more information about the Network, please contact: willipaul1 at

The Sun2Soil Story

Sun2Soil is a light weight, ultra-thin, photo-sensitive and nutrient rich membrane composed of processed organic compost, seeds and soil enhancing nutrients. The SSDNM technology creates green jobs as workers are needed to combine and manufacture the collected compost and soil enhancing nutrients into a membrane for use on organic farms and home gardens.

Employment is also planned at a second production stage in the field when the Nutri-Membrane is placed on top of the newly planted field and slowly dissolves naturally with sun and water, helping to keep the moisture levels high underneath the membrane until the seedlings break-through the soil and emerge into the open air.

Some ingredients in the membrane are also directly absorbed by the leaves of the seedlings.

At this stage, the membrane breaks apart from the shoots and falls into surrounding soil, releasing the remaining life nutrients from the Sun2Soil membrane. SSDNM works naturally with any crop.

After the last fall harvest, the accumulated organic compost is ground and mixed with locally produced microbes to produce the pre-membrane material. After cooking down into a semi-moist consistency, seeds are added and the membrane is then molded by recycled metal roofing panels into 40-foot x 8-inch x 1 in strips and then allowed to hardened, then rolled for transport. A variety of seeds and food plants are possible. Potential sources for seeds are the farmers market, permaculture guild or the local seed bank.

The Sun2Soil Dissolving Nutri-Membrane technology is especially scaled for 20 family (50 person) neighborhood permaculture grow projects, urban gardeners and family food production that supports community, jobs and Nature. The vision is to achieve a sustainable, on-site closed-loop perm-tech solution. The process is especially geared to assist struggling populations in Africa and has many correlated educational and research upsides.

Sun2Soil is a no-till grow operation. There are no gas-powered tractors to buy and maintain. Hand labor is deployed to make furrows and rows for the seed-laden membranes. Research has shown that microbes can contribute to weed control. Water can be collected and dispersed by using an on-site rain catchment system. There is nothing needed off-site but it is envisioned that growers will barter Sun2Soil for food and goods at their local farmers market or permaculture guild meetings.

Key challenges for seed funding include selecting and sourcing the right nutrients for the membrane recipe and achieving a steady reservoir of on-site organic compost.

Membrane Ingredients (TBD)

Pulverized organic food and garden compost
On-site grown and minced organic soil microbes
Organic binder (?) - Binders are liquid or dough-like substances that harden by a chemical or physical process and bind fibers, filler powder and other particles added into it. Organic binders, designed to disintegrate by heat during baking, are used in sintering.

Membrane Recipe (TBD) 

Mix, heat then pour liquid membrane into form (recycled 8” metal proofing panels)
Add seeds every ~ 4” (TBD)
Cool then peel away from form and use or roll-up to store

Membrane Characteristics 1.0


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Mildew, Rot, and Environment: 3 of the Most Common Garden Problems and How to Correct Them

Replicating nature’s seemingly effortless “green thumb” isn’t always simple. Along with rich soil, sunlight, and water, gardeners need to be attentive and patient or else their garden may succumb to a variety of issues. Choosing resilient plants and planting during the appropriate seasons improve the chances of a healthy garden, but natural problems can arise nonetheless.

The first step in treating a sick person is to identify the symptoms in order to categorize their ailment. From there, doctors can apply the appropriate treatment; hopefully before the sickness worsens. Similar to people, gardeners need to watch for symptoms of sickness in their gardens so they can identify what’s wrong and treat accordingly. The number one rule in coaxing plants back from ill-health: the earlier the treatment, the stronger the resolution.

Unfortunately, there are many problems that can arise in a garden. Some are openly visible, some can’t be helped due to the environment, and some are caused by poor garden maintenance. The following are some common plant problems and treatment options that every gardener should know.

Powdery Mildew

Easy to recognize, powdery mildew is a common fungus that invades any garden. It appears as white or gray abnormalities on leaves caused by a combination of reduced soil moisture and humidity. As the fungus advances, the leaves will turn brown, shrivel, and eventually die. It prefers younger leaves, so it’s particularly important to watch for during the early stages of plant development. Powdery mildew is also dangerous because it can travel from plant to plant via the wind and insects. Because of its ability to spread, treatment requires the fungus to be completely eradicated from the garden.

Vegetables such as tomatoes, pumpkins, and squash are especially susceptible to powdery mildew because their growth minimizes air circulation. Gardeners can use stakes or latticework to support the plants as they grow, increasing air flow to the plant and minimizing the chance for fungus growth. Adding a layer of mulch also inhibits any mildew spores in the soil from floating up onto the leaves. If powdery mildew is already present, prune the affected areas and remove from the garden entirely. For those who want to guarantee it powdery mildew is completely eradicated, destroy the plants once they have gone through their life cycle instead of reusing them in compost.


(img. courtesy of Root Simple)

Blossom Rot

Inconsistent watering, a lack of calcium, or high salt levels may result in this garden disease. Blossom rot can ruin an entire plant’s harvest, and is especially harmful to tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Gardeners who are worried about blossom rot can look for brown, sunken spots on the fruit’s bottom. Fortunately, blossom rot can’t travel to other plants because it isn’t a fungus. However, most treatment is preventative and removal is the only option if the fruit is already compromised.

To prevent blossom rot, keep soil consistently moist. This means watering evenly throughout the garden and avoiding soil dryness. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways from using traditional watering cans to sprinklers. If you’re someone who is on the run or likes to ‘fool-proof’ things, a garden watering system is what you’re looking for. Additionally, adding water soluble calcium to the soil prior to planting can inhibit the effects of blossom rot along with a layer of mulch to maintain soil moisture. Blossom rot can be easily prevented, but if it does occur, remove the affected fruit and keep a close eye on the remaining produce.


(img courtesy of GardenInMinutes)

Environmental Injuries

Besides the threat of disease and fungus, gardeners must be wary of damage caused by extremes in the environment. The best advice? Protect your garden from extremes! Whether it be temperature or rain, gardens suffer from radical changes from the norm. They thrive in regimented, controlled environments that promote growth instead of stress.

Cold temperatures will cause stunted growth, cracks in the stem, and leaf loss. If these symptoms begin to appear coupled with cold weather, add a layer of mulch to insulate the soil. Covering the plants with a sheet can also help maintain warmth, ensuring the garden’s survival.

Hot temperatures will scorch the plants, rendering them incapable of growing. Symptoms caused by extreme heat include discoloration, dry soil, and crisp leaves. To combat these detrimental effects, gardeners can shade their gardens and increase the watering frequency. Keeping the soil moist up to two inches of depth or more is a good gardening tip to remember during the hot summer months.

Key Take-Away

Mildews, rot, and environmental factors are common problems every gardener should be familiar with. Proactive, preventative treatment is the best method of protecting a garden, but nothing is foolproof. The key to a successful garden is vigilant observance and a rapid response before the issue can grow further.

Wiley Geren III and Bryan Traficante. Bryan co-founded in 2013, a family-owned venture focused on making it easier to start a quality garden. GardenInMinutes is home to tool-free, cedar raised garden bed kits and the Garden Grid watering system - the only planting guide and garden irrigation system, in one. Along with unique gardening solutions, Bryan provides time saving gardening insights on their blog and social media pages. Find Bryan and GardenInMinutes on Facebook,  Instagram, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Organic Gardening the Easy Way, Part 1: Bean Arches

This flower arch is made from recycled fencing and pvc pipe. 

We upcycled pvc pipe and old yard fencing for this striking homemade flower arch, a focal point in the garden. Doesn't hurt that pollinators find it inviting, too. Photo by Ron Wynn.

Gardening is fulfilling work, especially when you garden organically. It’s good exercise, it guarantees a good strong dose of vitamin D, it provides green goodness all season long—and maybe even all year. But every gardener knows gardening is also hard work. Who wouldn’t want to make it easier?

I’m all about making things easy, and over the years I’ve learned a few diy and other tricks to make gardening not only easier, but neater and more visually appealing in the process. This article is the first in a series of easy gardening tips I've picked up by trial and error.

Today’s tip happens to be my personal favorite. Grow up! As in vertical. My preferred vegetable for this purpose is beans. My husband and I tried growing bush beans one year. We thought that would be the easy way—no wasting time building tepees or other structures. Well, anyone who’s ever spent a day hunched over picking beans knows it can be backbreaking work. It only took one year for us to decide we’d grow only pole beans from then on. At the time, we had no idea what a good decision we'd made.

Build an Arch to Last

Our first attempt at keeping bean plants upright was to wind twine around them, attaching the twine to poles at each end of the rows. Pretty ineffective. The twine was no match for the tall, heavy-laden plants. Then we discovered the idea of arches. Again, with our penchant for making gardening easier, we wanted ours to be sturdy enough to hold their own for years. (Bonus tip: make things to last, even if it takes a little longer the first time. It’s worth it to not have to keep repairing and replacing.)

We opted for cattle panels, that robust fencing that comes in a 16 foot x 50 inch size with the wires spaced perfectly for sticking hands through to pick on the other side of the panel. (Don't be discouraged if you don't have a super big trailer. The panels were much longer than our small utility trailer, so we arched them right then and there. With a few tie-downs, they traveled just fine.) Cattle panels can be found at any farmers’ supply center.

How to Make a Cattle Panel Arch

Our twenty-four-foot-long raised beds hold six panels, each arched from the outside of one three-foot-wide bed across a two-foot-wide walking path to the outside of the adjacent bed. That makes the arch about eight feet wide with a middle height of about six and a half feet, perfect for us. Just by reaching our arms to the side and over our heads, we can pick baskets full of beans with no strain at all. Our happy backs thank us every gardening day.


Our six-panel cattle arch is ready. All that's left to do is plant the beans. The space we save by growing vertically can be used to grow other vegetables. Here, we have a few kale plants under row cover. Photo by Carole Coates

To make our arch even sturdier, we attached each panel to its neighbors with cable ties every few feet. Unlike more flimsy supports, our secure arch easily stands up to both the weight of mature plants and the high winds so common in our neck of the woods.


Beans are filling in the arch. Photo by Carole Coates.

In season, Christmas limas, Fortex (stringless, so that’s nice), Trail of Tears (our favorite heirloom), and scarlet runners create a magical, shady garden arbor, full of pretty bean flowers that give off a lovely aroma. A real treat for the senses.


Easy pickings. Photo by Ron Wynn

We make full use of our bean arch by planting shade-tolerant vegetables in the remaining raised bed space, especially chard, kale, and salad greens. We’ve even had good luck with sun-loving radishes by planting them early in the season at the ends of the rows where they get more daylight. Their season is over well before the beans grow high enough to block the light.

Other Options for Growing Vertically

As much as we love our cattle panel bean arches, we’ve used other kinds of supports to create arches and trellises for growing vertically. There are all sorts of possibilities out there. Be creative.


We got these ornamental wrought-iron shutters for a song at a local auction, wired them together, and Voila!, a year-round eye-appealing trellis. Photo by Carole Coates.


Covered with edible flowers, and sometimes gourds, our wrought-iron trellis is barely visible. Photo by Carole Coates


We turned this discarded A-frame store display unit into a portable arch for cucumbers. Perfect match. Photo by Carole Coates.


We even built a traditional tepee-style bean arch for showy scarlet runners, seen here through the cattle panel bean arch. Note the variety of shade-tolerant veggies filling in all the space we saved by growing our beans vertically. Photo by Carole Coates

Advantages of Growing Pole Beans

Aside from the ease of gardening with arches, pole beans offer other benefits. Growing vertically is a big space-saver, very important if your gardening area is limited. Pole beans are also much more prolific than their bushy cousins. Not only do you get a higher yield per plant, but as long as you keep picking, they’ll keep producing—great for season-long fresh eating. Without even trying, we’ve been able to can and freeze enough beans to feed ourselves until the next year's bean harvest rolls around, to donate beans to our local food pantry, and to give plenty of fresh and home-canned beans to friends and family. And we still have enough to put up lots of jars of our favorite dilly beans.

Pole beans are less susceptible to soil-borne diseases than the bush variety, too. The birds and bees love our bean arch, and that’s just fine with me—anything to encourage pollinators and natural pest control gets a big thumbs up from this gardener.

Is there a Downside?

If there’s a disadvantage to using cattle panels in the garden, it’s the very permanence that makes arches so desirable in the first place. It’s best to rotate garden crops from one year to the next, but you’re not going to want to move those heavy panels. The best option is to have two or three shorter lengths of arches. While you’re growing beans in one, plant other vertical-loving plants such as winter squash and cucumbers in the others. Then just move each one over to a different arch the next year.

Go for It!

I encourage you to give bean arches, especially the cattle panel variety, a try. I suspect you’ll fall in love. You may even want to bring a good book and a lawn chair to your arch. It makes a delightful little hideaway when you need to get away from it all.


A cool spot for a break from gardening work. Photo by Carole Coates.

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal, where she blogs about her take on life, including modern homesteading, gardening lore and how-to, food preparation and preservation, as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography. Read all of Carole’s Mother Earth News posts here.

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