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Unique GrowBarrel: Finishes, Trellises, and More!


Once you have your GrowBarrel, you may be asking yourself - how can I make it more me?  Well, there are  options. 

First, the barrel can be painted
(as in the picture to the right).  This technique  takes maintenance and will probably need a touch up at least once every season, but its useful when you a particular color to match in your landscape.  Try going to Hirshfield's or your local paint store to see if they have any free paints (since sometimes the wrong color is mixed) or using up some from a household project - or you can always buy your favorite color!  There are spray paints available for plastics, but we really are not in favor of using such products due to VOC concerns.

You can also add other things to the outside!  In the picture to the left, we've attached astro-turf grass to the outside, but you could also cover it with adhesives such as  stickers or some artful  duct tape.  Mosaics with the right materials could be employed. 

Of course, there are many more options just waiting to be discovered by your imagination and creativity. Let us know your inspiration, and send us a picture of your handiwork!

Trellis: Functional Art!

When we use a container garden, we are working with definite space limitations.  Many plants like to spread out, either by forming a stout bush or through trailing vines.  With bush varieties, we can predict how much space they'll need and plan for it.  Vine crops, however, are more tricky - left to their own devices, cucumbers, squash, peas, and beans will spread out as far as they can.  Vines can grow vertically as easily as horizontally, so to reduce the space they take up, we can build a trellis for them to climb.  Trellises are also useful for tomatoes and some other crops as it helps hold the stem up and support the fruit. 

A trellis can be as created simply by placing the GrowBarrel next to a fence or railing which it can climb, such as a chain link fence, a porch railing, or an unused bike rack even.  If you do this, merely tie the vines/stem (using twine or other strong yarn/string) to the trellis to encourage it to grow up it - the plant will do the rest of the work for you.

The second option is to place a trellis in the soil of the center of the barrel.  Again, this can be as simple as an old piece of wood, though this likely would not provide enough space for a vine crop to climb.  There are also store bought options, including the tomato cage shown at right.  These are very strong, and would support multiple vine crops, although the fruit can be more difficult to harvest.  Another option (which is store bought in the picture to the left, but which could also be built) using a one dimensional trellis would allow for easier access to the fruit.  Finally, you can build your own in-soil trellis.  One option is to place three wood stakes with about six inches under the soil and about 1 - 1.5 feet above the soil line.  These should be placed in a triangle with sides of about 4-6 inches.  Then, run string in a zig-zag pattern between all the stakes (creating the cross bars similar to the store-bought trellis).  The vines can then either be tied to these strings or draped over them to encourage them to grow up the trellis.

The third option is to anchor the trellis to the GrowBarrel itself. The picture to the left illustrates this option (if you click on it you will go to
the original blog). In this case, two metal pipes are anchored, probably using a drill and screw, to opposite sides of the container with a cross bar connecting them. It is difficult to see, but it appears that this may actually be a piece of wire fence because there is wire (much like a chain link fence) between the bars. This can be simplified by using old pieces of wood or PVC pipes instead of metal pipes and stringing twine or thin wire between the two.  Such a trellis could also be anchored to the wheelbase if you prefer (see instructions for the wheelbase below)

Finally, the trellis can be anchored into the ground - which would be my suggestion if you are able to keep your GrowBarrel in one place throughout the summer.  To do this, push 1/4 inch diameter pieces of willow or bamboo into the ground around the barrel and tie together above the barrel.  One of the GrowBarrels created last year used this system, as you can see in the picture to the right.

Experiment!  A lot of items laying around your home would likely make wonderful trellis' - use your creativity (with some added help from Google searches!) and continue to re-claim and re-use materials!

Here are a couple designs to get you started thinking!  This first one is from the Better Homes and Garden website, but the site itself has been taken down:

This twiggy tepee, known in garden circles as a tuteur, guides and supports plants into a decorative pattern.

This willow tepee makes a wonderful garden accent, even when it's not supporting a climbing plant. The formal name for this type of structure is tuteur, from the French meaning guide and instruct. A tuteur literally guides a plant into a pleasing shape.

Crafted from flexible willow trimmings, this tepee can be made in one afternoon. See below to learn what you'll need to make your willow plant support and how to put one together.

To find a source of willow, check with tree trimming firms or local nurseries. You might also try checking with local craftspeople who teach bentwood furniture classes.

Tools and Materials List
  • 8 willow posts, 7 to 8 feet long, 1 1/2 inches in diameter
  • 25 feet of 14-gauge wire
  • metal macrame ring (or other type of ring), 18-inch diameter
  • 50 thin willow rods, 5 to 6 feet long
  • eight 1-inch brown ring-shank panel nails
  • hammer

Step by Step

1. Gather the eight willow posts. About 10 inches from the top of the posts, wrap 5 feet of wire around the bundle several times. Twist and snip the wire ends.

2. Working with a helper, space the posts evenly apart, forming a teepee. Insert the metal macrame ring inside the posts to about a third of the way up the form. Use wire to secure the ring in place temporarily. You'll remove the ring when you're done weaving, so don't snip the wire ends.

3. Trim eight willow rods to equal length. Nail the base of one rod to the inside of a post just above the metal ring. Weave the rod over and under the next two posts counterclockwise, leaving the end free. Nail another rod to the next post clockwise. Weave it over and under the next two posts counterclockwise, placing it just above the first rod. Leave the end free. Continue in this fashion until each post has a rod nailed to it. Repeat the weaving technique: One at a time, weave the rods over and under the next two posts counterclockwise, until all the rods are woven. Weave eight more rods directly above this first section. No need for nails now; simply wedge rods between posts.

4. Repeat the process 20 inches above the weaving, using 16 more rods. Finish by twisting the willow rods to form a ropelike strand. Twine the willow rope around the tower until you reach the top. Tuck the ends into the wrapped post tops.

5. Conceal the top wire using a willow rod. Remove the metal ring spacer. Trim the post tops. Push the tower into the ground. Anchor it using a metal rod, if desired.

The second example plan is also from Better Homes and Gardens (hint:  good place to check for even more ideas) and the website can still be found here!  This one has a little bit fancier look, but you can still definitely make it at home if you have the tools.

A Pot Trellis

Transform a potted vine from a spill-over creeper into a reach-the-sky climber when you give your plant a vertical structure to latch on to.

What You Need:
            • 2 sets of wooden quilter's rings 14 inches in diameter, the stouter the better (1-1/2 inches wide is ideal). You can find these rings at a crafts, sewing, or notions shop.
            • Six-foot strips of cedar 1/4 inch thick and 5/8 inch wide. These can be cut from bender board or screen molding. (Purchase at lumber store.)
            • One 1-inch-diameter dowel or broom handle cut to about 3 inches.
            • 1 hanger bolt (a double-ended lag screw) 3/16 x 1-1/2 inches. (Purchase at a hardware or lumber store.)
            • `12 sets of brass bolts with nuts, size #8 by 1 inch. (Buy at a hardware or lumber store.)
            • 2 (or 3 or 4) wood curtain rod rings. Standard size accommodates 1-3/4-inch pole. (Buy at a drapery shop.)
            • 1 decorative finial. (Buy at lumber or specialty shop.)
            • A 14- to 16-inch pot, soil, and plants.

Pictured: Steps 1-2.

1. Prepare the cedar. Soak the cedar strips for several hours to make them easy to bend. Glue the outer and inner quilter's rings together and tighten clamps firmly.

2. Assemble the finial. Drill the finial and the dowel at their centers and connect them with the hanger bolt to give the finial a 3-inch handle.

3. Attach the finial. Surround the dowel with the cedar strips, butting their ends up to the bottom of the finial. Slide the curtain rings up the bundle of strips to secure it to the finial. More rings are optional.

Step 4.

4. Add the hoops. Here you might need an extra set of hands. Stand the finial and strips up, and slide the first hoop inside the strips, slowly working it up about 1-1/2 feet. One by one, feed the bottom of the strips into the second ring and slide it up about a foot. To repeat: The first hoop goes inside; the second, outside.

5. Secure the assembly. When you have achieved the desired flare and rigidity, drill all the cross-sections of strips and quilter's rings and secure with the brass bolts and nut.

6. Finish. Optional: After the wood strips dry, coat with a wood sealer to preserve for several seasons of use.

Wheel-Base: For your moving ease

GrowBarrels are designed as a container garden for everyone, no matter their living situation, but they are particularly well-suited to renters.  Individuals and families who rent generally do not have the ability to make and in-ground garden in their own yard - or perhaps will be living in a particular residence only in the short-term.  Container gardens are just as mobile as these renters - though GrowBarrels are quite heavy, so they would be challenging to move when full of soil and water.  There is, however, a solution!  A wheelbase can be constructed; having wheels on  the bottom of the GrowBarrel not only allows you to move it if you change residences, but it also allows you to easily move it inside if the weather gets dicey or move it throughout the day to areas of more sun!

I have not yet tried the instructions I present here, but the measurements provided are based on a GrowBarrel with a 23" diameter.  They are an adaptation of a picture in Ed Smith's book, "Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers," and so I definitely encourage you to experiment and improve the design - and let us know when you do so we can put the updates here!

17 ft. of 2"x4" lumber
Saw - whether it be a hand saw, table saw, etc. does not matter (use what you're most comfortable with)
4 2" wheels (or other wheels in your local hardware store that look sturdy)
Hammer and approximately sixty 3" nails OR strong wood adhesive
8 2" nails (or 3" if you have extras from above)

Final dimensions of wheel-base: 2 ft x 2 ft

Step 1) Use a saw to cut 2"x4" lumber into eight pieces, 24" (2 ft) in length.  At the end, you should have a 1 ft length of lumber remaining - reserve this for later

Step 2) Lay out five 24" pieces as shown in Figure 1.  The pieces should be parallel, flat, and have 1" between them.  Then lay the remaining three 24" pieces on top of the first five pieces, placed at a right angle (perpendicular) to the first layer, as shown in Figure 2.  The three pieces should be parallel and have 6" between them. 

        Wood adhesive: Use the pencil to mark the position of these three pieces, then remove and spread wood adhesive
                                where they were placed.  Replace the three pieces and p lace heavy books or use clamps to hold the
                                boards in place while the adhesive dries.

        Nails: I recommend using nails where marked with a dot on Figure 2.  It's possible that so many nails will not be                             necessary, but, in this conceptual design, I wanted to be s afe.

Step 3) Place the four wheels about 1" from the sides, one in each of the four corners as shown in Figure 2.  Follow manufacturer's instructions to attach the wheels.

Step 4) Return to the remaining 1 ft length of lumber.  Cut this into four 3" pieces.  On each side of the wheelbase, place the 3" piece in the middle of the side as indicated in Figure 3.  Attach using two 2" nails for each piece, one nail on each end.  These will keep the GrowBarrel in place on the wheelbase.

Step 5) Put the GrowBarrel on the wheelbase, and enjoy the mobility!