Garden Spotlight: Tomato Cages

It is Wednesday, June 13.  My tomatoes have reached that stage where they need to be caged, lest they heed the call of the broccoli and make plans to go in search of greener pastures.  (Note to self: silence the broccoli.)

The first decade that I was a gardener, everything I tried in my effort to keep my tomatoes upright, failed—driving a stake and tying the plant to it; then triangle-shaped, taller and stronger metal stakes for the same purpose; and, of course, those three-feet tall round cages, which the tomatoes outgrow by the end of July.

No matter how hard I worked at it, my plants fell all over the place.  Branches wound up on the ground.  I could barely find spots to step among them.  I tried to prop them up.  I put grass clippings under them.  I lost lots of tomatoes, which rotted when on the soil.  Thankfully, in stepped my friend, Rick Hughes, with a suggestion, which I have now used for thirty years.

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When I planted, I used the cages to mark the spots for each plant, so that the cages would butt up against each other.

Rick told me to buy garden fence, four feet tall, with 4″ x 2″ wire sections, enough feet that, when I cut into eight foot lengths, I would have enough cages for all of my plants.  Next, roll the eight foot lengths into circles—this gives them a 2.5′ diameter—and secure them, top and bottom, with zip ties.  Then, at various spots around each cage, high and low, cut out some of the wires to make 4″ x 4″ holes, which will be large enough through which to get my hand and retrieve the fruit.

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My current cages have many 4″ x 4″ holes, but lately I have expanded some of them to 6″ x 8″, as in the photo, above.  With the smaller holes, I tend to catch the edges and scratch my arms.  The larger holes take care of that problem . . . mostly.  (Shush, broccoli!)  I haven’t cut the larger holes too close together, lest I weaken the cages.

When the plants get large—if you take good care of them with water and fertilizer, they should grow over the top of the cages; most years, I have plants that reach as high as my eyes, and I am 6’1″—a windy day can result in them falling over.  I keep that from being a problem, two ways.

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First, I secure the cages to each other, as in the photo, above.  Second, I drive a stake next to them, as the next photo shows, and attach it.  If, when the plants grow large, I find that one stake doesn’t do the job, I’ll add another, on the end.

(Confession time: It’s only the past few years that I got wise and planted so that the cages touched each other.  Before that, late in the season I drove stakes next to each cage, as needed.  Experience has been a great teacher!)

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Here is where I would insert a photo of my large tomato plants, from a previous year.  Alas, a search of my computer, my Facebook photos, and those I’ve posted to my blog have left me empty-handed.

Perhaps, that will ensure your checking in as the summer rolls on.  (See, broccoli, I ain’t so dumm.)

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