Growing Up

By Jennifer E. Beaver

Ever get something stuck in your head? In my case, it’s a lemon cucumber.
It all started with the cuke photo in my latest book, “Edible Gardening for California” (shameless self promotion– let’s get it out of the way). It’s a cute cuke– oval, pale yellow with stripes, about three inches long. An heirloom variety dating back to 1894, lemon cukes don’t taste like citrus, but they do look a lot like lemons. Renee’s Garden ( describes them like this: “They have a mild, sweet flavor, crisp texture and non-bitter, thin skins. Cool and refreshing, very young lemon cukes are delicious eaten right from the garden like a fresh, crispy apple.” You can see why I want the plant.
But then there was the problem of a trellis. Cukes and other vining plants like beans, melons, gourds and squash give better yields raised up off the dirt. They stay cleaner, healthier, avoid some insect problems and are easier to pick. Vertical growing also saves precious gardening space.
All good! But my carpentry skills and budget are limited, and I’m reluctant to invest a lot of time or money. I searched the Internet for vegetable trellises and found some at Territorial Seed Company (; two 48-inchers for about $40 without shipping) that looked surprising like…stepladders.
For me, this is a good thing. We have six stepladders in our backyard. Really. Several years ago, contractors working on an investment property came and went, leaving their ladders behind.
One will soon be reborn as a cuke trellis. I’ll dig four holes 6 inches deep and position the ladder’s legs for stability. Then I’ll drape a net or coated wire mesh over the rungs and secure with zip ties. Cucumber tendrils wrap around narrow supports with a little encouragement.
Look around for other “found” objects to make a trellis. In her excellent daily blog, Dirt du jour (, Cindy McNutt shows a castoff patio umbrella repurposed as a support for beans. Attached at the joints with eyehooks, string runs down to the ground, where it’s secured by garden stakes. Beans (or other plants) will climb up the string.
Stay tuned for more about drought-tolerant landscapes in my next column. I’ll introduce you to some designers who understand this special type of landscape and also talk about some outstanding native gardens at schools.

Jennifer E. Beaver, a Wrigley resident, is a master gardener and author of Container Gardening for California.

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