(Marisa requested this article when she bought 6 more heirloom tomato plants from the farmers market and was unable to find tomato cages at the local super store.)Want an industrial-size tomato cage? Then head to the construction section of your local home center.
Tired of the flimsy three-ringed tomato cages readily available in the gardening aisles of home stores, my husband and I made it a mission one year to find a better solution. Our requirements for cages were these: they must be sturdy, tall, collapsible (for storage), relatively inexpensive and with openings wide enough to allow easy harvest.
The standard-style tomato cage pales in size to one you can make yourself.
We hit paydirt with metal reinforcement mesh intended for use with concrete.
Each piece is a four- by eight-feet rectangle, with the grids spaced six inches apart. To form the cylinder shape, my husband first cut off the outer border of one of the four-feet-long sides to make prongs, then wrapped these around the other four-feet-long side. The metal is pliable enough to manipulate, yet sturdy.
This makes the cage four feet tall with a diameter of about two feet. Unlike the typical cage, this one does not need to be pressed into the ground; it is freestanding. However, you can choose to anchor it with metal stakes and cable ties.
Yes, you'll note that my cages have surface rust, but they're in their third year of use and are holding up great. I actually like their patina.
These are friendly cages, too, with room for two or three plants. Plant them about six inches inside the perimeter, and equally spaced around it. Not only is this an efficient use of space, but watering, weeding and fertilizing efforts are consolidated. Leave enough space between cages to walk through.
Planted this way your tomatoes will grow upward and upward, and you will be amazed!
This is a picture of my garden from July 2006, when my tomato seedlings had been in the ground for about two months. As you can see, the tomato plants directly behind my daughter in blue have already passed the four-feet confines of their cage. By season's end they were easily five feet tall.
By the way, you may notice the silver glint of a standard cage to my daughter's left. I still used those cages that I had, but for smaller fare like peppers.
I mentioned that my industrial cages can house two or three plants. Which is it, two or three? Depends.
We learned from trial and error our first year. Based on the way sunlight moves through my garden, some plants did great three to a cage. In another spot, light was somewhat compromised by the plants' closeness, and they didn't produce as much fruit as the other detainees (although we still got a lot!). This season I'm doing some areas with just two plants per cage.
Each of our cages cost about $8, not bad for something that can work for three tomato plants at time and last several seasons. To store, unwrap back to the flat rectangle and place in a shed or against a fence.