How to Build a Tomato Trellis with a Cattle Panel

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This week I built a trellis for my raised veggie garden. I used a remarkable and inexpensive product called a cattle panel.

This is my first year using a cattle panel but I am anticipating it will work significantly better than a cage. It’s sturdier, taller, and has a lot more surface area for big climbing plants.

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Cattle panels are used for livestock fencing and consist of a lattice pattern of heavy gauge galvanized steel wires. They are sold at Tractor Supply stores for around $16 per panel. They are 4′ wide and 16′ long. I bought one panel and had to have the guy at the store cut it in half with bolt cutters in order to fit it in the truck. I tried cutting it with a hacksaw, and it worked but was really slow.

My raised bed is 8′ long, and I put the plants I plan to grow vertically in one row along the north side of the box: 3 tomatoes, one cucumber, one zucchini, one patty pan squash, one pole bean and one sugar snap pea. When I built the trellis the plants had already been in their spots for a few weeks. To avoid disturbing them, I decided to attach the trellis to the outside of the raised bed on the long wall.

I expect to grow super tall plants, so I decided to use the full length of two panels (8′ tall) situated side by side. To support the panels, I built a frame using 1/2″ EMT metal tubing and corner connectors from the hardware store. The frame materials cost around $6 total.

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I didn’t have a big plan for how to measure and cut the framing materials. It worked pretty well to press the panels into the dirt — they stood up on their own while I measured the EMT for the frame.

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To support the trellis, I drove the EMT into the ground probably 6″ or so and attached it to the side of the raised bed with an EMT bracket.

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Finally, I used plastic cable ties to attach the panels to the frame.

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If anyone else out there is doing something cool with cattle panels or building a better tomato cage please comment!!

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68 responses to “How to Build a Tomato Trellis with a Cattle Panel

  1. Looks nice! I’m sure you know what you’re doing there, but when I tried a trellis of those dimensions I ended up having to stake it to tent lines to keep the wind from blowing the whole thing over as soon as the top was heavy with plants. Something to consider. Maybe that conduit won’t bend, maybe it will.

  2. I am hoping that since I used the rigid panel that will distribute the weight better than trellis fabric and that the conduit won’t bend.

    What sort of material was on the inside of your trellis?

  3. My trellis was made of reused green stained PVC pipe and some “550” parachute cord I scrounged. As soon as it was covered in snow peas it was like a kit in the wind…but yours is definitely more rigid and heavier!

    I’ll probably take it apart reuse some of the same materials for one or more trellises I build this year.

  4. I saw cattle panels at my local Lowes the other day. They might be more equipped for cutting them to a smaller size (for a fee, probably).

  5. How are the two panels of cattle panel connected together – assuming zip ties as well?

  6. That is correct, with zip ties. So far this seems very sturdy.

  7. Good it better be sturdy – I just finished building mine 🙂 Thanks for sharing your plant

  8. What a great idea for tomatoes. My question is
    the conduit at the store that is 1/2″ and 3/4″ at
    10 feet seems to bow in the middle at 5 feet. What
    size conduit would be best for indeterminate tomatos. I thought also of putting 10 foot cedar
    poles 8 feet apart and taking 8×16 cattle panels
    and sitting them on the ground and staking them with 6 foot fence post in middle and tying on the side to the ploes and not even using conduit at the top. Maybe the top would sag in the middle
    but the top would be tied to the post.

  9. I wondered as well about whether the conduit would bow, but after considering that the cattle panel is rigid I felt better. Most of the weight of the plants is distributed on the panel. The conduit is just there as a frame to steady it. In fact, some people who opt for panels use those short metal fence posts only to support the panel.

  10. Dude! Genius! Love it. I’m going to Lowe’s to use the idea (we have a Tractor Supply out here in the Boise area as well, either way). Thanks for the tip! I’m impressed with the economy of the project.

  11. I use electric conduit and metal “2” x 4″ fencing which comes in 24″, 36″, 48″, 60″ and 72″ tall sizes which Home Depot/Lowes carries; I use 48″. I have a ECT bender and I use metal couplers and nylon ties; works great. I currently use landscape timbers for my 8′ by 4′ and 4′ by 4′ beds. I use rebar to mount my conduit which is tall enough to stay in place. This late autumn I will be replacing my beds with 2″ by 8″ timbers and making all beds 4′ by 4′ which I find are much, much easier to work with and maintain during the winter which I plant rye grass and cool season vegetables which may grow through our winters in East Central Alabama; though January is it as temps for a few nights are known to drop into the teens.

  12. Glad to hear about your plan Bill! I am planning some additions and modifications to this for the fall and will post those soon. I imagine that bender helps.

  13. This is fantastic. My husband and I are looking at buying an older house in Austin, Texas that looks like it will have a wall that just soaks up heat all day long… which is NOT GOOD during the summer, and I was trying to figure out a nice, sturdy way to get trellises so the front of my house could be covered with vines. I don’t like the big foofy white (expensive) ones from garden stores, and it looks like these will be PERFECT for this house. I’ll be able to cover the front of the house with lovely cucumbers!

    Oh well, my potential neighbors will know I’m crazy soon enough. 🙂 I’m bookmarking this page, thank you so much for posting it!

  14. Do not know when this was posted???
    We have been using panels for years. Bend them over and made a chicken coop, raised beans on em. even made a greenhouse. Cool looking trellis.

  15. Thanks for your comment Big Dave! I am thinking that this year I may construct some cages out of the lighter weight hog fencing. You should post some photos of your structures!

  16. Hi, We are just starting to build trellises for our vertical plants and was wondering how yours worked out last year?

  17. Cattle gaps (panels) are excellent trellises for any climbing plant. For more than 20 years, I have used them to trellis white half runner beans, which easily climb to 7 feet or higher. The gaps are 16 feet long. I space round wood posts (3 to 4 inches in diameter) 8 feet apart and center the gaps on the posts, end-to-end. This spacing provides a balance so there is no force tending to pull the posts together. Normally I hang two gaps , with some overlap, so that the total height is about 7 feet. Small pieces of wire (18-gauge) or heavy string can be used to tie together the ends of the gaps so they don’t wave back and forth in the wind. Likewise, a small stake and string can be used to secure the ends so they don’t wave around.

    Screw hooks are permanently attached to the posts at the appropriate level. Panels hang from these hooks at the desired level above soil line. Initially, this requires some measuring to ensure that the bottom cross-wire is about 6 inches above the soil line. It also is helpful to put a small nail in the post at the approximate level of groundline. This makes it quicker and easier to set the correct post depth when using a post-hole digger.

    Between seasons, I take down the entire rig, and put it back up the next year. Removing green bean stems is very difficult — I have found the easiest thing is to pull off as much vine as possible; then, lay the gaps on the ground in grass or weeds . That provides a high-humidity environment with a lot of biological activity. By the next spring, the old bean stems will be completely rotten, and can be brushed off with a stiff broom or with the head of an old broom rake. I usually burn the old vines.

    Yes, wind can blow a trellis over if it is not adequately anchored. It’s not a problem if you set the wood posts deep enough. I normally go at least 18 inches below soil line.

    If you own or can borrow a sawzall with a hacksaw blade, it will make quick work of cutting the gaps into pieces – much faster than bolt cutters. A hacksaw is definitely the last resort.

  18. Eric I would love to see photos. Mine worked well last year but I think I may move where I place the trellises, and also use flexible wire fencing to build large, custom tomato cages.

  19. Eric Hinesley

    There are many ways to trellis tomatoes. Today, I put up a 48-ft long trellis for tomatoes using three cattle gaps, end to end, just as previously described.

    I also use tomato cages made of 14-g hog wire. They work well, but a stake is needed to hold them up. A person without strong hands might find it challenging to cut and bend the wire. Lineman’s pliers or bolt cutters work well.

  20. Hi Erin! I am planning on building a raised bed pretty much identical to yours, situated with a trellis across the back on the north side as you did. I am wondering if this presented any problems getting to the plants in the back of the bed? My bed will be 4 x 9 (the trellis spanning the 9 foot side) Thanks!

  21. If you are building your trellis 4ft high, you can use T-Posts and zip strips to tie the trellis to the panel. Once you pound in the T-Posts it is hurricane proof! A 6ft T-Post sells at TSC for about 4 bucks.

  22. Gretchen- that is a good question. I ended up moving the panel to the top of the bed above the plants, suspended like a ceiling. Now I hang strings and webs from it as I please. The way I originally had it, it was not a problem to get to the plants as the panel holes should be wide enough. It just didn’t offer as much flexibility for supporting plants throughout the bed. Thanks for your comment!

  23. Erin,
    I use hog wire for tomato cages. A 4′ length makes a circle about 2′ in diameter. I connect the pieces with hog rings. I live in a short season area and one big reason for this design is that I make tubes of clear plastic that slide over the outside of the tomato cage and then are folded over the top. The plants stay much warmer. The plants grown with plastic will be twice are large as the others six weeks after transplanting.

    I also use hog rings to connect other things. For example, I use 10 line cattle panel cut into 3 pieces. With a 16′ panel that means 5′ 4″ per piece. I connect two pieces with hog rings to make an A-frame trellis. Like the cattle panel, hog rings are sturdy. But use hog rings not pig rings or shoat rings. The others are too small.

  24. It is amazing how many ways there are to do things, isn’t it? One of the comments mentioned being hurricane-proof. I used U-post to anchor my conduit trellis and it literally survived Hurricane Ike 75+ MPH winds — while it was full of pole beans no less! You can read about it at http://www.meadowwoodgarden.com/super-sturdy-trellis/

    This year I am going to support the tomatoes with cattle panels in a different way. Basically the plan is to sandwich the tomatoes between two panels that are about 2 feet apart. Hoping this will allow them to climb freely, and the panels should be support enough without a frame. That is the plan anyway!

    Thanks for the information!

  25. Pingback: Adventures in Veggie Garden–Starting the Trellis & Week 4! « paintchips & cupcakes

  26. Great ideas on trellises. Here is what we do… 2 eight foot 2×2’s stuck into the ground at either end of the bed. 1 8 foot pc. of electrical conduit with ends flattened screwed into the tops of the 2×2’s. Then jute hung down and loosely attached to each tomato plant with extra length at the top that can be let down if it gets too tight when the tomato plant climbs up it. In the fall you can just cut down the whole plant and string and throw into the compost pile. The jute will compost nicely.

  27. Cattle gaps (panels) are excellent trellises for any climbing plant. …. We used to belong to a community garden (moved). When we were there we were alotted a 10×12 plot. Dimitri, one of the gardeners there was brilliant. He surrounded his plot with panels and also placed them on top and a panel in the middle of the plot with a door on one side of the plot for entering (picking his vegetables). The vegetables/vines would grow on the outside of the panels (to reach the sun – cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloup, pumpkins (he used old nylons to support the large melons and tied them to the panel; the center panel would have legumes, herbs, lots of dill, garlic, leaks, carrots, broccili, cauliflower, etc. The produce that would come out of his garden was unbelieveable. They featured him on the front page of the local paper (Arvada, Colorado) stating he had a community vineyard (he never grew grapes). He fed his family of twelve and their families all year from his garden 10×12 garden, fishing and hunting. He would also garden in the winter with leaks, garlic, dill (of course) and other vegetables. He was Russian and the Russian community would make cold frames and cover with heavy black plastic or recycled trampoline mats. They fill old milk plastic jugs with water and surround the area (all seasons).

    Oh, and the tomatoes … they planted garlic at the base of each tomatoe plant, no bugs and got fish heads from supermarkets (usually thrown out) and buried them about 4-6″ at the base of each plant as well. The plants – enormous – full of tomatoes! I never saw any of them use fertilizer or pesticide. Large produce and plenty of it.

    Since we moved, I separated 1/3 of our back yard and surrounded it with a white picket fence and a beautiful grape arbor and trellises (yes, that I built from scratch and still painting – yes I’m painting white, why not). I’m also turning over the grass (yes, with a shovel) to prepare the area for next season’s planting. I bought a house at auction and I’m planning to pay it off in five years. Thus, making everything from scratch …. cheap, cheap, cheap …. awhh, but beautiful! I’ve planted my favorite fruits – peach, apricot, plum, three cherry, two pear, grapes, strawberries, razberries, blueberries … and, of course, cutting flowers. Next season, I’ll tackle vegetables. Trying to make our home as green as possible, recycle, self-maintaining, etc. Future … solar, wind energy (residential, HOA) … we’ll see.

  28. I did not read through through every comment, *but* through years and years of experience I can tell you that the zip ties will be your undoing. They are prone to becoming very brittle and will break after being exposed to high temps and sunlight. The solution? Stainless steel hose clamps. Last forever and are reusable. The cattle panel idea is perfect – I plan on doing 32 feet of cattle panel in an A-frame style. It will be self supporting that way.

  29. I have utilized cattle panel for my gardening for years now…hammer two stakes in the ground (I use fence posts) take the entire section of cattle panel and with one end butted up against the protruding stakes, bow it over in an arch. Hammer two more stakes on the free end, then tie off the panel to the four stakes with wire. The end result is an arch that allows you to plant any climbing vegitable or climbing flowing plant to cover…it is very pretty after covered.

  30. Pingback: Adventures in Gardening–Starting the Trellis & Week 4! » paintchips & cupcakes

  31. Hello there,

    I have been working on a project for the National Young Farmers’ Coalition this year: a blog that we’re putting together profiling farmer inventions/fixes/innovations. Visit us at http://www.farmhack.net

    We’re interested in featuring this cattle panel trellis wanted to officially get your permission to re-post a couple of the images. If you choose to grant that permission, there are two options:

    – the images can be included on our blog and licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license that is the FarmHack default license– it allows other people to share / repost those images for non-commercial purposes;

    – or the images can be used on FarmHack, with your permission, and we will specify that the copyright to the images is yours and is not covered by the Creative Commons license.

    Let me know if one of those options would be ok with you.

    Also, we’d love to hear any feedback you may have.

    Thanks!

    Jessi Jaramillo

  32. Where do I buy the Cattle Panel ?

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  34. Thank you for the detailed instructions! I’d like to build one of these for my roses.

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  40. I would also love to take the course at some point. I sew but this would be a new skill. I would love to know where in Boston, I can find a milliner who will shape the hats that I already have in my possession

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