Tomato cages for the serious Gardener
Tomato cages for the serious Gardener – An easy DIY tomato cage project
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.
All of these can be bought from Lowes or Home Depot.
- 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.
- About 20 or so plastic ties per tomato cage to tie down the wire mesh roll.
- Wire cutter, to cut the wire mesh.
- 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.
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.
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.
Advantages of wire mesh tomato cages:
By this time you already figured out the advantages, if not, here is the list.
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.
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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