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.

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.


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.


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!)


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.)

Meet my garden


The new Merrymoss garden is well underway.  Weather in the 80s, lots of sun, a nice rain this week, and my staying on top of the weeding and fertilizing has her looking pretty good for early June.

We moved into our new house a year ago, yesterday.  A week before we moved, I dug up a spot in the back yard and a little section in front of the porch.  I feared that we had too much shade in the back yard—the best spot only got sun from 2:00 p.m. till dark—and, as I feared, things grew slowly and spindly, so I ditched it.


This spring, I went for the front yard.  The first item in the ground was the broccoli, above, which I planted where I had success with the only vegetable I had put in the front last year, the tomatoes.  The broccoli is doing well.  I hope to harvest the main heads by the end June, then snip side shoots the rest of the summer.

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Onions, kale, and spinach (from left to right, above) can also take colder weather, so they went in with the broccoli.  Julie loves kale and spinach fried in a bit of butter with her breakfast of either an egg or some ground beef.  Since she began harvesting last week, each morning she says with glee, “I love being able to go out the front door to get my veggies.”

I bag my grass clippings.  Note how they are spread around the onions.  They help keep weeds down and moisture in.  In the fall, I’ll rototill the clippings into the soil.  They decompose quickly and improve the soil.  This soil can use some decomposed material to loosen it as it is pretty heavy, almost clay.

Note the plants that are between and alongside the kale and spinach.  These are cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and more broccoli.  Since the kale and spinach will soon bolt and be done, when I remove them the room is opened up for the Cole crops to fill in the space.  I learned this trick many moons ago from a gardening show.  It makes one’s garden larger without having to tend to more ground.

In late summer, the cabbage will be gone, as will many of the onions.  In the opened up areas I’ll sneak in a fresh planting of kale and spinach.  That is, I will if I’m smart.  I need to keep on Julie’s good side!

In the top-right corner of the picture, above, you can see one of the two zucchini hills.  Zucchini grows so prolifically, there is a city ordinance that prohibits trying to give it away to your neighbors . . . well, there should be.

The poles and cages for tomatoes do not work, which one commonly sees in stores.  They soon are dwarfed by the tomato plants and the plants are falling all over the place.  Years ago, a friend told me about taking sections of fence, eight feet in length, turn them into a circle, and secure them.  They are two-and-a-half feet in diameter.  I space the tomatoes so that the cages abut, then I zip-tie them together so that, when the plants are large, they remain standing in stormy weather.  These cages are perfect for growing tomatoes.

By late summer, the plants will be growing over the top of the cages.  During good years, they will keep going and be as tall as me or higher, over six feet high.  There are areas around each cage with sections of fence cut out, creating space to reach in and pluck fruit.  Yesterday, before placing the cages, I surrounded each plant with grass clippings.

I only have seven cages.  I have twelve plants.  The five without cages have grass spread around them so that any fruit that lies on the ground will not sit on the soil, and I won’t have to reach in to pull weeds.  These will be a jungle of vines by late summer.

Yesterday, I noted most of the tomato plants already with blossoms.  I pinched off each one.  The plants are too small to support fruit, and fruit growing now would take away from plant growth.  So, pinch those early blossoms, give the plants the best chance to grow, and you will reap the benefits later in the year.

Since I can my tomatoes, I want lots of fruit.  In the best years, I have picked nearly a bushel of tomatoes from each plant.


At the east end of the garden are three rows of corn.  A mulberry tree shades this end—last weekend, Julie and I cut down the two branches that were overhanging the most—so the corn doesn’t get sun till just after noon.  I am pleased with how well it is growing.  In Port Hope, my corn often did not meet the old saying, “knee high by the fourth of July,” but I am hopeful to be waste high by then and eating corn by August.

Don’t bother me with corn-on-the-cob from a store.  It’s not much better than store-bought tomatoes.  The key is to pick the corn and have the water getting hot while you shuck the corn.  This provides the greatest sweetness.  I will eat a half-dozen ears as my entire supper.

To round out the garden, immediately to the west of the corn are two hills of butternut squash, which only went into the ground last week and are just coming up.  They will spread and completely fill the area with their vines.  Finally, between the squash and tomatoes are green and red bell peppers.

When, in March, I posted pictures of my tilling up the grass that used to fill this spot, I had some inquiries into successful gardening.  I gladly share the three things that provide me with a wonderful garden, year after year:

  1. Weeding.  Weeding once a week is best.  The weeds will be small and easy to eradicate.  I use a cultivator for most of this, a hoe in tighter spots, or just plain pick them out by hand.  I sometimes lag behind and two weeks go by before I weed.  By then, the job is larger, but not impossible.  If you wait three weeks or more, you might as well take up underwater basket weaving.
  2. Watering.  A general rule is an inch a week.  If you are getting nice rain, dandy.  One summer, I never ran a sprinkler.  Most summers, I have to quite a bit.  The biggest mistake people make is under-watering.  They see the ground wet and stop.  Dig your finger into the soil to be sure the water has soaked in and hasn’t only penetrated the the first half-inch.
  3. Fertilizing.  I use the blue crystals that you dissolve in water, and I go through the entire garden with my watering can.  It takes awhile, but I love being in the garden, in the warm sun, enjoying its beauty.  I fertilize every week to two weeks.  As with water, people tend to under-fertilize.  Whichever type of fertilizer you use, follow the directions and keep at it if you want your plants to have nice growth and bear well.

There is no secret to enjoying a beautiful, bountiful vegetable garden.  Dedication is the key.  When you take good care of it, it will feed you well—both your stomach and your sense of satisfaction from a job well done.