I have a problem with plant stakes. In the springtime I plant my plants, whatever they are, and if I think it necessary, I put stakes in the ground next to them so that I can tie them up when they get bigger, so they don't flop around and fall to the ground. This technique doesn't work. Usually, I just forget to tie up the plants, or else I arrive too late and the plant has already flopped earthwards.
What I need is to get out earlier, be more diligent, or better still, use plant supports that surround the plants so they don't have to be tied. There are commercial ones of these available, but I can't bring myself to pay upwards of two quid for a piece of bent wire, even if it is covered in green plastic to make it look nice. Especially as I need 40 or so of them.
So I have been looking for alternatives. I spotted, in a municipal park, a couple of years ago, quite a nice system. It looked like a students' engineering project, and comprised a horizontal metal grille about a metre across, with a ring in the middle that was slid onto a vertical stake, and clamped to it with a bolt. I reckon that I can make something similar using the cheapo steel grilles and bars used for reinforcing concrete, as long as I can find a method of joining the grille to a vertical stake.
Hence the arc welding.
I don't know much about arc welding. All I know is that many years ago, my Dad, who was a teacher at a tech college, had a go at it. I am guessing that he looked at the calibre of students doing the arc welding course there, and concluded that any fool can be an arc welder. He came home one day with a huge and heavy welding transformer borrowed from the college, and a bunch of iron rods of different cross-sections, and announced that he was going to make a bed headboard.
The air in the garage was two-colours bright for a while; white from the arc welding, and blue from the swearing. Over time, the welding transformer disappeared back to the college, the iron went to wherever iron goes to die. Nothing was said.
On the other hand, how hard can it be? And I only want plant stakes.
Louis is a French paysan (it translates to "peasant" in English, but has no derrogatory connotations in French; "countryman" might be better) who lives down the road from me, and does his own arc welding. He promised to show me how it's done if I got the necessary equipment.
As it happend, our local DIY (Leroy Merlin) had a bunch of modern inverter-based welding kits, complete with the eye-protecting screens, on special. I got one, along with some iron reinforcement material for concrete, to make the plant supports.
The inverter is small and light, easy to carry, and the helmet is electronic: it has an LCD screen that is normally almost clear, but that blanks out to almost opaque in a few milliseconds, in response to welding light. This makes it a lot easier to use than the old style filters that you can only see anything through when the arc is burning. It's powered by solar cells, and they suggest you put the helmet in the sun for several minutes before using it. I took the whole lot round to Loui's place this morning and we had a go at making a plant stake.
Here is a picture of the stake, and also a close-up of the join that needs to be welded.
And here's the finished product. What a masterpiece! Can you see the smooth, professional-looking weld? Nor can I. And there's a bit where the metal of the square frame is almost burnt away. But in the end, it's a plant stake - aesthetic appeal is optional. And I am hoping that by the time I have made 40 of them I will have gained a useful skill. And some plant stakes. And a welder.