Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Weaving Bean Catchers

  Weaving "Bean Catchers" for Happy Gardeners & Healthy Green Beans:

Around here we are all about hobby gardening for fun and skills.

Hobby gardening and homesteading doesn't mean we are trying to be totally sustainable or attempting to raise the majority of our own food. What we are doing is enjoying the experience, participating in the learning process, and co-creating a beautiful and healthy space in the time and abilities we have.

This means that we don't grow as much as we can. We grow as much as we can manage. It also means we don't always do things the easiest way, or the most efficient. Sometimes we do something the most fun, expressive, and even lovely way we can.

Bean Catchers are surely one of those.

We hit on the idea when building our traditional bean trellis, out of saplings, down branches, and twine way back in 2009. Here it is, a fine clever green bean trellis. This one was done as a bean tunnel for our then six year old daughter. Look closely and you'll see a small section, woven as a "Dream Catcher" pattern, on the far right end. We were almost done I realized I could weave one there. 

Now, it's not our goal here to precisely teach you how to weave Dream Catchers. In fact, that entire craft has come to symbolize a rather distinctive form of cultural appropriation among the Native American community. We were once directly involved in that community and while we did learn a number of crafts, such as this, during our time among it, we also developed a deep respect for the reality of they indigenous cultures of North America, and not the the idealized mythology that come to be prevalent in some of the dominant culture. So, this brief rant will suffice to express that. To do this simple garden craft, you do need to know the weave pattern used in Dream Catchers. So go online, learn the process, and bring it to your garden for it's decorative style, but please don't assign any contrived Native traditions to it. These are, in fact, just a nice weave of cordage, that looks good and holds up beans. Nothing more.

So, you've learned to do the basic dream catcher pattern. Now, you can create it in other forms.

Once we did the one above, we experimented with a few other bean trellis techniques. We used a straight fence one year, and  the deer created a perfectly straight browse line down it, neatly cropping off all the beans and leaves from 4 ft. down. With much experimentation, we hit on this. A series of tripods, woven on two sides, and between each set, with Bean Catchers. 

2013 Bean Catcher Trellis

So, you need a tripod of strong sturdy logs. I used standing dead wood from our lot. I rarely cut green wood, but yes, there is sometimes a need. You can find much in the way of useful standing dead wood, dried and ready to use. Don't take too much from a particular area as many animals use it. Shown here are 2-4 logs of mostly locust, a very hard, very rot resistant wood. Some are also hickory, similar to locust, but lighter, and will rot in the ground. (Locust can last for decades if not longer!) Also, likely some maple in there, which works just fine for our need here.

In the pics below, you can see the details of lashing the tripods. I am using a particular hitch, which is also a Native American technique, called a tipi hitch. It is used for lashing the tripods of those iconic lodges together. It is very strong and puts the logs in a particular order that holds the tripod firmly. It also creates a tripod that is pitched back and flatter on one side. This allows for a more even spacing for us, with our path system through our beds. You'll note in the pics we are using plastic bailing twine from our straw bales. This is one of the few times we ever use any synthetic materials in our garden. We intentionally use biodegradable twines for almost everything. This is so if we lose material in the garden, it will rot away properly. Additionally, birds and other wildlife will gather fibers of any kind for their nests. You only need to find a bird with plastic line wrapped around it once to make that a firm rule. However, for secure structure, it is best that the line not have a chance of rotting out and failing, so we use the twine. We are very careful to recover it each year.

We learned this hitch from putting up tipis in past years with friends. However, we did refer to the important work on the tipi, The Indian Tipi: Its History, Construction, and Use by Reginald & Gladys Laubin. It is a great book that is filled with interesting ideas. Every homestead should have it on their shelves, in honor of this land's first homesteaders. However,  as long as the book is out, and you are using the lashing up to teach a little bit about tipi construction and Native American life, you might as well let your home schooler read under one a bit.

So, you've got your tripod up, and your ready to weave a bean catcher....not quite. In our area, our gardens are a bit exposed, and sometimes windy. Also, the tripods are very large, over six feet tall, and rather heavy. We don't want them falling on anyone or anything. So we stake them.We cut stakes from similar wood as our tripods, only slightly smaller in diameter. I tend to make a half dozen or so a year, adding to our stock of stakes and replacing any that have rotted or have broken. They are about 18-20 inches long and cut and sharpened on one end with a hatchet. They are very useful in the garden for such things, and additionally, you are fully prepared for any vampire attack.

 Most feet of the tripod get a single stake, lashed thoroughly. The center point, downwind side, gets two, set in the ground at angles for extra strength. Our winds are not usually that fierce, but why take chances and worry about it? Take the extra time in your garden spaces, to do jobs well, and you won't have a mess to clean up, or lose a crop in a storm. Hobby gardening doesn't mean sloppy gardening. Quite the opposite in my approach. Not doing too much, means doing what we do, better.

Build your tripods correctly and securely and at the end of the season, you can pull your ground stakes and just fold the tripods up and store them for the next year. You'll certainly need to recheck them, and maybe relash, but it does make it easier. Here we are pulling out the tripods for the 2014 season. You can still see the weaves from the previous year on them. We cut those free and composted the twine. Then we just stood them up, and staked them down.

Once the tripod is up, and secured, we are ready to weave. Once again, I won't show this in detail. You need to go learn the weaving process and practice it. Part of what makes this fun and easy for us is that we have made so many in the past that we can weave fast. About the twine, we use jute, not sisal, not hemp, not cotton. Jute. It lasts a long time, and it is inexpensive. For three full tripods, woven on two sides, with a third space between them, we used about 500 feet of jute. It cost $2.69 on sale at our local farm store. You'll use most of it so buy two rolls, one for your tripods and one for your general garden needs. Jute is great stuff, and it is our favorite fiber for using in the garden.

Now, let me be clear again about this. This isn't the easiest or simplest weave for a bean trellis. There are lots of others out there that work just as good or better. This is very strong and support an abundance of growth. It allows easy access to the mature vegetables. However, most importantly, it is neat, fun, relaxing and attractive. We've never seen anyone else do this, and we hope that this post will spread the fun. If we were growing beans on a commercial level or practicing large scale sustainability, this wouldn't be practical at all, but we aren't. We're hobby gardening. This is fun.

So rather than try to show a bunch of details of how we weave, with confusing pictures, here is a short video of the process. The video is a little shaky as it was filmed by our girl, but it gets the point across.

Once they are up, prep the soil underneath and plant your climbers. While we primarily use them for green beans, they work for any climbing vine. We tend to inter-plant with cucumbers. We also sometimes add a bit of nasturtiums on the ends for snacks and sunflowers for their sheer beauty. Once the beans, or other foliage is up, they are so thick and dense you can sow greens, like lettuce, that benefits from the cool space under. Of course it's nice to get under them as well, so leave a little room for that, or build over a bench, like we did this year.

They really do look great. You can hang ornaments from the center of the webs, or wind chimes off the tripods. It is a garden ornament and structure all in one. The beans certainly love it. Here is one year when the catchers were catching their fair share!

Happy Hobby Homesteading. Go make something beautiful!


  1. Your bean catchers are so pretty and very creative, like a work of art. I like your series of tripods to deter the deer. Thank you for sharing at Green Thumb Thursday.

    1. Thank you. Art is what we do! We are professional full time artists to support our gardening habits!

  2. I too love your bean catchers. What a great idea!

  3. Your thoughts at the beginning of this post about your focus and purpose in hobby gardening are so helpful to us as we think through our own. Thank you for sharing so transparently your thinking process.