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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Industrial Tomato Cages

(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.


Chuck Bartok said...

Marissa, Beautiful Blog and of course your children are gorgeous.
I have been growing tomatoes for almost 55 years and have always staked. Years ago I did a test and the staked and pruned tomatoes always out yielded the "caged Tomatoes and are easier to harvest.

Watch our Video Series
Growing Tomatoes for Health and Wealth

Em said...

Great idea! I have been struggling with my tomatoes this year. We've had deer completely defruit and defoliate them once, and now I have 7'tall deer netting all around the perimeter of my garden, but one of my plants just doesn't want to stand up anymore! I think we'll invest in some of this type of cage next year!

mike said...

Great idea Jennifer. I like this idea because the cages seem like they would be easier to store during the winter than normal cages.

Holly Reed | Reed Photographic said...

This is a great idea. Not sure why something so logical never sprang to mind!

Jennifer said...

I've actually just revised the idea for storage's sake. Some years we've uncoiled the cages, other years we've stored them upright. I think, though, that repeated unwrapping could make a stress point on those prongs. Instead of cutting off part of the metal to make the prongs in the first place, just use plastic cables ties to form the cylinder. You can cinch them tight and then cut off when ready to store. I've found cable ties at dollar stores.

Chuck, thank you for sharing your staking information. I look forward to watching the videos. Gardening's great because there's always something new to learn!!

Shauna said...

I'm not so great at leaving comments, but I love this blog and check it daily. It is my inspiration in our backyard farming endeavors. Thanks so much for all the great insights and ideas!

marisa said...

Thanks Shauna, it is good to hear from you, send us some pictures of your garden. You sent us a picture of all the veggies you started, now let's see what they have become.

Chuck, I can't wait to watch your video series!!!

Julie said...

thanks for the helpful idea! I've recommended several friends to check out your blog recently (b.c of the great ideas & pictures.) Keep up the good work.

marisa said...

Thanks Julie!

Summer said...

Just a thought.. If you needed extra support for the cages, you might try cutting the horizontal wires on the bottom. Either cut both ends and stake the vertical ones in the ground, or cut one end and bend the horizontal wires down for staking.