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By iris, on February 21st, 2009 tomatoes

Tomato cages for the serious Gardener


Tomato cages for the serious Gardener – An easy DIY tomato cage project


If you don’t have the time or ability to make your own tomato cage, here is the next best alternative Tomato Cage using Flexible Garden Grids.

Store bought tomato cage

Store bought tomato cage

Every spring, I see heaps of tomato cages sold by the home improvements stores like Lowes and HomeDepot. Of course these are convenient items for a wannabe gardener, who will lose interest in gardening in a month or so.

However if you are a serious tomato grower who would like to harvest a lot of tomatoes, these ready-made cages are of no use, due to the following reasons.

  • These cages are way too small for any decent sized tomato plant. They may support a small plant in a pot, but if you are growing your tomatoes on the ground and expect to get a lot of tomatoes, then you need a much bigger tomato cage.
  • They are too weak to support a plant of a decent size during heavy rains and wind.

So what is the solution?

Instead of buying the ready-made tomato cage shown above, just by a roll of 6ft wide construction wire mesh (welded wire mesh) with 6 x 6 inch mesh. which is used for concreting. You will be able to find them in Lowes or Home Depot among the construction materials section along with concrete and cement.
These wires are very strong and sturdy. Even though they may look all rusted, they will last years and years. They cost about $30.00 per roll, however you can make about 6 or 7 tomato cages from a single roll.

So here are the steps.

Required Materials

All of these can be bought from Lowes or Home Depot.

  1. One roll of construction wire mesh: 6 ft wide, 6 x 6 inch mesh size. The 6” x 6” mesh size will allow you put your hands through the mesh when you harvest your tomatoes.

    Length of the wire mesh roll (updated on June 10th, 2009): Since these rolls are really heavy, try to buy the 50ft roll. Some stores may carry only the 150ft roll – in which case they can be really, really heavy. Make sure to take a strong helper with you when you go to the store if you have to buy the 150ft roll. Also you will need a truck or a van to transport it. Please read the comment made by Mr. Campbell on June 10th, 2009, regarding his experience buying a 150ft long wiremesh roll.

    Construction Wire Mesh for Tomato Cage

    Construction wire mesh roll for tomato cage

  2. About 20 or so plastic ties per tomato cage to tie down the wire mesh roll.

    Plastic ties to tie the wire mesh into a roll

    Plastic ties to tie the wire mesh into a roll

  3. Wire cutter, to cut the wire mesh.

    Wire cutter to cur the wire mesh roll

    Wire cutter to cur the wire mesh roll

  4. Four rebars of 4 ft length per tomato cage – these are optional – instead you can also use wooden stakes. Rebars are needed only if you want to put your cages elevated from the ground.

    Rebars to stake the cage into the ground

    Rebars to stake the cage into the ground

Step1: Making the cage

  • First of all wear your thick gloves and eye protection. Then cut the roll of wire mesh into a 7 ft length x 6 ft wide piece using the wire cutter. This will automatically be bent over to create a loop.
  • Roll the mesh and overlap the edges for ¾ ft. The more the overlap, the more roundish your cage will look and the sturdier it will be.
  • Use plastic ties to tie down the joint in several places.
  • This will create a wire mesh cage of about 2 ft in diameter and 6 ft tall.
sturdy wire mesh tomato cage

sturdy wire mesh tomato cage

Step 2: Plant your tomato, if it is not planted already.

Step 3: Place the wire mesh cage around the tomato plant and level it properly.

Step 4: Staking

The cages needs to be staked to prevent them from tipping as the plant grows. If they are not properly staked, they will topple when there is heavy rain or wind. You can stake them using wooden stakes driven all the way to the ground. Tie the cage into the top part of the stakes using long plastic ties or hemp. Optionally you can also use four rebars about 4 ft in length. You can place these rabars uniformly around the cage. Then drive them into the ground using a hammer to a deapth of about 1.5 to 2 ft. Then you can raise the cage to about 6 inches above the ground and tie it to the rebars at several locations.

There is a specific advantage in using the rebars to elevate the tomato cages from the ground. Since the cages are elevated, they will not corrode easily. Also it will be easy for you to do weeding and add fertilizer.

And finally here is the finished picture. If you look closely you will see the rebars at the bottom.

Finished wire mesh tomato cage

Advantages of wire mesh tomato cages:

By this time you already figured out the advantages, if not, here is the list.

If you don’t have the time or ability to make your own tomato cage, here is the next best alternative Tomato Cage using Flexible Garden Grids.

1. Saves you time

Tomato plants supported by wire mesh cages require considerably less work compared to either staked or trellised tomatoes. The plants are supported and contained within the cage. Ocasionally, you may need to guide a wayward branch back to the cage and that is it. Compare this to the constant tying and supporting necessary if you use a stake or trellis based solution. Before using the wire mesh cages I used to spend hours tying my tomato plants to their supports. But not any more.

2. Saves you money in the long run

Since these cages last for 10 to 15 years or more, your investment will last for several seasons.

3. More tomatoes to pick

They produce more tomatoes that are less likely to crack or sunburn compared to trellissed or staked tomatos. Please see the recommendation from Mississippi State University in this regard.

Aesthetics

This is a major concern for many people. However some people – before actually seeing a tomato cage in action – will assume that they will look the same as the big roll of rusted metal they see in the home improvement store.

Actually when you make a tomato cage, you are using only a single layer of the roll. Since you are using a cage with 6 inch x 6 inch wire mesh, when they are installed I find them almost invisible to the eye.

So where do we store the 6 ft x 2ft monster cages during the off-season?

This is a common question many people ask when I mention about the wire mesh tomato cages. If you have a deck, you can hang them horizontally underneath your deck during the off-season. Since these cages are dark, they will remain almost invisible when hung underneath your deck.

How many tomato plants per cage?

For the size of the tomato cage mentioned in this article (2 ft diameter, 6 ft height) we plant two plants per cage. This way even if one plant dies we will still have another plant as the backup. At the end of the season, we generally see one of the plants dominating the other.

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25 comments to Tomato cages for the serious Gardener

  • Jagjohn

    After HOURS seaching the internet for the best cages, this is what I will do this year, Thanks John

  • Coralsue

    Thanks – we’ll try it!

  • [...] I found this blog entry about making your own sturdy tomato cages and will be making some cages this [...]

  • Brad

    This is great. I read that if you make each of the cages slightly different diameters e.g. 2ft; 2 ft-1in; 2ft-2in; 1ft-11in ect. then in the off season you will be able to have all of the cages fit inside of each other for storage.

    • TheWaterbug

      That’s a great idea! Does anyone have any experience doing this? How much difference in diameter do you need so that they will actually nest inside each other even with real-world differences in roundness, little bits of wire sticking out, etc.

      Actually, now that I think about it, if the mesh is 6″ x 6″ and you’re tying vertical wires together, the natural increments would be 6″ in circumference, or a hair less than 2″ in diameter. That seem about right for nesting.

      I’ll have to try this sometime. I’ll post results next year if it works. If it fails I’ll hide in shame and you’ll never hear from me again :)

  • Geri Yaccino

    Hi. I found your article very inspirational and want to build these cages for my garden. So far, though, I cannot find a source for the wire mesh with the 6×6 openings. Any suggestions??

    Thanks.

  • Jimmy Sanders

    Thanks. I found this info very useful and have made several cages so far. My suggestion is to cut the wire with bolt cutters — easy, effortless, no sore hands!

  • Geri

    Sorry for the delay in my response. I found “remesh” at my local Lowe’s, as well as the rebar and plastic ties. After borrowing wire cutters from a buddy, I am ready to “roll!” I must admit, I am a little spooked by the scary stories of wire whiplash, but with gloves and goggles and a spotter/semi-willing helper, I think I will do fine.

    Have you ever visited the “Seeds from Italy” site? It is a terrific source of seeds and the newsletter is great about the varieties that are tested. I get my seeds for tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, arrugula, zukes, and basil from this source.

    Thanks for the helpful information.

  • ive been constructing something like this before, but not even close to yours, will try

  • Campbell

    Thank you for the helpful, straightforward information. I recently made these cages, and all worked out perfectly. A few things that might help some other folks:
    -Concrete reinforcing wire is not generally available in 6′ wide rolls. 99% of the places most folks go to (read: Lowes and Home Depot) will sell them in 5′ rolls only. This width works fine. I bought a 150′ x 5′ roll — the only width and length available — at the Lowes in Brooklyn NY for $140. No, they wouldn’t cut it to a shorter length.
    -I can’t emphasize enough how heavy the roll is. When you go to the hardware store, bring a helper, a big car, and plenty of blankets or padding. A handtruck for moving the thing when you get it back to your place is really nice, too.
    -Working with the wire is unwieldy and dangerous! It’s really springy. And sharp. And has a mind of its own. Definitely wear safety goggles and heavy gloves!
    -A regular wire cutter won’t “cut it.” I had to spring for a pretty heavy-duty bolt cutter for around $15.
    -Not sure how much value the rebar adds in terms of sturdiness, but I appreciate that the cages “will not corrode easily” and that it makes it “easy… to do weeding and add fertilizer.”

    Good luck!

  • oclion

    Thanks! Just Created Four Tomato Cages For Me, And Three More For A Friend.
    My Only Improvement To Keep Your Design Evolving, Was I Recommend Spray Painting
    The Cages To Prevent From Rusting.
    Once Again Thank You!

  • admin

    Dear Campbell:

    Thanks for the very detailed comment. Your comment would be very helpful for our readers.

    When I bought the wire mesh from Lowes, I was able to buy the 50ft length roll. It was really heavy, yet was manageable. I can only imagine how heavy the 150ft roll would be. Three times heavier than what I bought. Your post will help the readers to be prepared if they are attempting to buy the 150ft roll.

    thanks

    • Campbell

      Thank you for responding! I’m just delighted with your blog. It really is terrific.

      Apologies for not responding sooner — I wanted to take some snapshots of the new cages. BTW, I’ve got a ton of leftover concrete reinforcing wire. Anyone in the NYC area interested in buying some of it is welcome to email me at inyalluk@yahoo.com.

      Attached is a picture of my cage:

  • Thank you so much. I was trying to decide what types of stakes to use.. but these look like the ones to go with.

  • Lawson

    When determining the width of your cage remember: Pi * Diameter = Circumference so if you want the diameter 2 ft that is a 6.28ft x 7 ft piece. 6 ft wide = 1.91ft diameter

  • karin

    I made these several years ago after reading “World Record Tomatoes” by Wilber.
    I haven’t used them again because I was worried about the rusted wire and how it would affect the tomato plants and the soil.
    Is this a legit concern?

    • admin

      Karin, thank for your comment.

      I don’t think it is a legitimate concern. Iron is not a synthetic product. It is a natural mineral which will degrade very naturally. These cages will last more than 15 to 20 years so it is not a use and throw item. Finally iron is good for the soil as well as for the human body. Iron is an essential component of Hemoglobin which contitutes your blood. Iron deficiency can cause Anemia in humans.

  • DJ

    Just a side note … I have been using these for a number of years … instead of the rebar I use one metal fence post and this secures the cage …

  • John

    I made 30 of these cages and found them to be easy to make and very strong. If you arrange the cages so that they touch each other, you can wire-tie them together and use only 2 stakes each. Still very strong. I am looking forward to not having to tie off my tomatoes so much this year.

  • D Wells

    You do not need rebar. Cut the bottom horizonal wire and it will leave your cage with a 6 inch insertion wire barb. I have found that the barbs hold up for 6 years so far. When they break from bending and rust then I will (6 of them in 2ft. diameter cage) use rebar and ties. Price of 150 ft roll (Makes 33 cages)has gone up to $107 at Lowes. (Change we can believe in)

  • TheWaterbug

    I just stopped by my local Home Depot, and yes, they only sell 5′ x 150′ rolls, for $99.

    I asked the special order desk if shorter rolls were available, and he called the vendor, who basically said no. They also have a 7′ width (e.g. height for a tomato cage), but that only comes in a 200′ roll.

    I called around to several other local building supply retailers, and I did find one (HD Supply Repair in Gardena, CA) that will sell a 5′ x 50′ roll for about $40.

    I also found Sepulveda Building Materials (also in Gardena) who will cut a 50′ roll from their 7′ x 200′ rolls and sell it to me for $83. That’s way too expensive for my tastes, but this year’s tomato plants are already 6′ tall, and still growing, so it would be nice to have a 7′ tall cage.

    I might keep calling around to see if I can find the 7′ stuff cheaper. Now that I know it’s available I might end up with buyer’s remorse if I settle for the 5′ size.

  • Stuples Hollow Farm

    Just a couple things. I have been doing it this way for years, only a couple things I suggest. 1st, I would not plant 2 plants in each cage because you always have a dominate plant that can take up most of the nutrients, etc. and that will at very least make 1 plant not produce like it should. It can even cause 1 plant to die, why waste money for a plant that can die or not produce to it’s potential? Even if it doesn’t kill 1 plant or just weaken 1 it can cause both plants to have to share moisture, nutrients, etc and then both plants will not produce to it’s potential. What I do is when I made my cages I only measured out 5ft lengths and then spliced wire together. It will leave roughly 1 1/2′ – 1.3/4′ across top of cage, so space your plants roughly 1 1/2′ – 1.3/4′ from each other, then install your cages. I put a post (Metal T-Post) at each end and tie end cages to the metal post then tie the rest to each other, creating 1 long cage. By them being tied to each other and to the posts it essentially makes it 1 big cage that would take a very strong wind to blow over, you do not need rebarb or anything like that, if you have to install stakes for each cage then why use a cage? You can just stake each plant 1 time and then tie it loosely to the stake as it grows. As far as them blowing over it would take some very very strong winds, with all tied together and to T-Posts it becomes 1 unit and face it, there is not much wind resistance with the wire, plus as your plants grow and start to use the cages it will make it that much harder to blow away, if would have to break plants or pull then up from the roots, and in that case there isn’t much you could do to save your plants. I plant 2 rows of 15 tomatoe plants, various kinds, and have had some really nasty storms and have never had any problems.

    Also for those of you having a problem with the wire springing back as you cut it or roll it out, put something heavy on loose end, roll it out then put something heavy on each side of where you are cutting, then cut in between and fence will not spring or roll up on you.

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