Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tomato Cages

Most gardeners love to grow tomatoes. And the big indeterminate types that keep growing and growing are some of the best types to grow. But they quickly outgrow those spindly little cages that garden and farm centers sell. (Those work well for peppers, though, in my experience.)

I made some tomato cages years ago that really work for indeterminate tomatoes (as well as the determinate types). I made them out of concrete reinforcing mesh. This looks a little like woven wire fencing, but it's not galvanized, and all the openings are the same size, big enough to put your hand through. With the woven wire fencing, some of the openings near the bottom are too small to reach through.

Concrete reinforcing wire is about five feet tall, as tall as I am and as tall as any tomato is likely to grow. You figure out the diameter of the cage you want--say 2 or 3 feet--and then figure out how long of a piece to cut, using wire cutters. If you want a cage 30" across, that would mean cutting a piece about seven or eight feet long, and then bending it into a circle. You bend the end wires around the beginning of the hoop so that it stays bent into a circle. Make sure any ends are bent into the inside of the circle, not sticking out toward the picker, because you don't want to get poked in the eye by one of these wires while you're picking tomatoes.

If your garden is on a slope, as mine is, make sure that you get the cages more or less plumb. You might have to dig them in a bit on the uphill side to achieve this. If they're leaning now, later in the summer, when the vines are heavy, they might tip over.

Make sure the ends go inside the cage and don't poke pickers in the eye.

These cages have to be staked, in turn, to keep them from falling over later in the summer when they are laden with tomato vines and fruit. You can use rebar, in lengths of about three feet. Pound these into the ground next to the cages and attach them to the cages with fine wire. You need about two or three stakes per cage.

The observant reader will notice that these cages are rather large for one tomato plant. Right. It's kind of hard to make smaller ones, so I make big ones and put two or three plants per cage.

These cages are also handy for growing green beans or cucumbers, or anything else that needs a sturdy trellis.

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