What do kids and beans have in common? They both love to climb! In today’s tutorial, we’ll show you how to make a bean tipi (or teepee!) for beans to climb. The kids? They’ll be hiding inside in another month or so. 🙂
This was a big project (and a big tipi!), so we spread it out over a few days. You can watch the process in our video tutorial. I’ll include additional details in the blog post below the video.
The Overview and Timeline
Here’s an overview of the steps and a suggested timeline. *Stars* indicate steps our kids helped with during the project.
Friday Evening (or another evening the week before)
- Gather Materials*
- Choose the Site and Mark the Center*
- Layout the Circle*
- Prepare the Soil* (Half a star. 🙂 As you’ll see in the video, Colby and I did most of this step.)
- Tie and Raise 3 Poles
- Add the Other Poles
- Tie the Bundle Together
- Add Twine Between Poles (I did this one solo, but older kids could definitely help!)
- Plant Seeds!*
- Mulch (Optional, but recommended – I did this after we finished the video.)
Let’s dig in!
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
- Clippers (for trimming side branches off bamboo)
- Tape measure
- Stakes (We used 9.)
- Water hose
- Digging fork
- Permanent marker
I’m going to list materials for our big tipi, which is 8 feet in diameter and about 12 feet high. The poles come together 10 feet up. We went big because a friend gave us awesome bamboo. (Thanks, Victoria!) You can definitely scale this down based on the size of your yard and materials you have available.
- Compost (Our soil is in good shape, so we added a 1-inch layer. This was about 6 cubic feet.)
- Other garden amendments you need (based on your own soil test and experience)
- Twelve bamboo poles or wooden stakes, at least 12 feet long
- Rope made of natural fiber, 3/8″ thick and 20 feet long.
- Twine made of natural fiber, 1/16″ thick and 200 feet long.
- Natural fibers include manila, sisal, jute, hemp, and cotton. For the rope, the natural fiber is important because it makes a knobby rope that doesn’t slip against itself when you wrap the bundle in Step 7. For the twine, the natural fiber makes fall clean up easy—the twine and leftover vines can all go into the compost. (Although if you turn your compost often, cut the twine into smaller pieces first, so the tangles don’t make you crazy!)
- Seeds – We’re using Scarlet Emporer runner beans, trailing nasturtiums, and Malabar spinach on the teepee. Around the base, we also planted radishes and small sunflowers.
Step 2: Choose Your Site
Choose a level spot that gets at least 8 hours of sunlight a day for the best results. Be sure you have easy access to water.
If needed, mow the area or cut down large weeds.
Mark the middle of your tipi with a stake.
Step 3: Layout Your Circle
Measure out from the center and use stakes and/or a garden hose to outline the perimeter of the tipi.
Pick where your door will be. We put our on the north-east side, where there’s less sun and the entrance is a little more hidden!
Step 4: Prepare Your Soil
Create a planting area around the circle in a swath about 12 inches wide. No need to dig where your door will be!
Remove grass and weeds.
Add compost and amendments. Mix them into the soil. In the video, you can see how we used the Double Digging technique about 4 minutes in.
Step 5: Tie and Raise 3 Poles
SAFETY NOTE: For Steps 5, 6, and 7, be sure small children are safely away from the tipi site. Older kids can help, but everyone needs to pay close attention. Our tipi fell over the first time because I didn’t have the first three poles arranged evenly. Yikes! Happily, it fell away from where we were all working/playing, but what if?… I definitely recommend having two adults do this part. Young ones can return after the tipi is solidly assembled!
Lay two poles down parallel to each other. We’ll call these A and B in the tutorial. Put a third pole on top at a 30-degree angle. This is your door pole.
Measure and mark 10 feet from the bottom of each pole. Line up the marks.
Tie the poles together with a clove hitch. (In the video, Colby demonstrates about 7 minutes in.) Wrap the tail around the poles three times and tie off the extra on your door pole with another clove hitch. The long end of this rope will be used in Step 7 to wrap the bundle.
We learned this technique from the excellent tutorial by Nomadic Tipi Makers for setting up their full-size covered tipi. I totally want a real tipi now. 🙂
If needed, rotate the poles so that your door pole is to the left of your door opening.
Raise the three poles, and spread out poles A and B. Adjust their spacing to make an even, stable tripod.
For these poles and the ones that follow, press the bottom ends firmly into the soil.
**If your tipi is in a windy spot, bury the poles deeper or anchor the bottoms with stakes hammered into the soil.**
Step 6: Add the Other Poles
Add the other 9 poles to the tipi. Let’s call them Poles 1 through 9. Here’s a ground plan sketch to help you understand placement.
Pole 1 goes on the right side of your door. Slide the top into the crotch in the poles above.
Pole 2 goes to the right of Pole 1, so you’re moving counterclockwise. At the top, it will stack on top of Pole 1. Repeat with Pole 3. Poles 1-3 are evenly spaced between the door opening and Pole B.
Now, move to the left side of your door and place Pole 4 next to your door pole. Continue moving clockwise and place Poles 5 and 6, spacing them evenly between the door pole and Pole A.
These three poles also stack into the same crotch at the top. Place them gently, so you don’t knock all of them out!
Now, move to the back side of your tips. Poles 7, 8, and 9 will be placed evenly in this gap, moving counterclockwise from Pole B to Pole A.
Pole 7 goes next to Pole B and slides into the crotch above. (There are two possible openings at the top. You’ll know you have the right one when the pole fits nicely into the bundle. Place Poles 8 and 9, stacking them on top of Pole 7 above.
Step 7: Tie the Bundle Together
Take the long end of your rope from Step 5 and start walking around the tipi in the direction that will pull your original clove hitch tighter. (Counterclockwise in our case.)
As you walk, whip and snap the rope so that it cinches up tightly against the coil above. Use the ladder if needed.
Step 8: Add Twine Between Poles
Many climbing beans could grow right up the poles without twine, so this could be an optional step. We want a nice dense cover and we’re growing a variety of plants, so we added twine between the poles.
Tie the first piece of twine 6-8 inches above soil level. Attach it to a door pole, move to the next pole and wrap it around twice. The friction should hold it in place, as long as you keep the line taught. Work your way around to the other door pole and tie a knot.
Move up about 8 inches and then loop the twine through itself so that it’s held in place again by friction as you move back around the circle. This leaves your door space open.
Work your way back and forth until you can’t reach higher or the poles get close enough together you don’t need the twine!
Step 9: Plant Your Seeds!
As I mentioned above, we planted Scarlet Emperor runner beans, beautiful shelling beans with flowers hummingbirds love. You could use any kind of pole bean here.
Since we love to plant diverse mixes, we also added trailing (and edible!) nasturtiums and Malabar spinach. The nasturtiums may need a little help getting started on the twine and poles. The Malabar spinach isn’t a spinach at all, but a vine with leaves you can eat like spinach. It should do well all summer long.
What else could you grow on the tipi? Early or late in the season, peas should work. In summer, you could try cucumbers or even tomatoes, if your structure is heavy duty and you don’t mind training/tying the tomatoes on! Morning glories would be gorgeous, but the seeds are poisonous if eaten…so I don’t use them here. on the teepee.
Don’t forget the base! You’ve prepared a lovely soil bed, and the beans are headed up. You have room to plant some low-growing veggies and flowers around the edge. We planted a radish mix and dwarf teddy bear sunflowers around our tipi.
Once you’ve selected what to grow on your tipi, follow the planting depth and spacing suggestions on each seed packet.
Step 10: Mulch
This step is optional, but highly recommended. Mulch will conserve moisture and discourage weeds.
Use a light layer of fine mulch (like straw or shredded leaves) over your planting bed. You can add a thicker layer once the plants are up.
If your bean tipi is in a lawn, put down a layer of cardboard or newspaper with heavier mulch (like wood chips) on top. This will keep the grass from creeping back into the bed, and make it easy to mow around the tipi.
Now, you wait.
Our first bean seedling emerged today! By mid-summer, we should have a nice shady spot and lots of veggies growing. 🙂
We’ll post updates here as things grow.
What would you grow on your tipi?
I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. If you’ve done a tipi in the past, please share your tips. Do you have another trellis method you love? Let us hear about it!