If you’ve ever grown tomatoes in the garden, you know that tomatoes get big. They sprawl. They are to the garden what flu is to the human population. If you don’t keep them in check, you’ll end up with plants everywhere, fruits rotting on the ground, and tomato seedlings as enemy weed number one while for years to come. You’ll also know that those rinky dink tomato cages they sell in the stores are absolute crap at keeping tomatoes in check and upright. So what’s a tomato-lover to do? Make your own!
If you are handy with wood and have a lot of scraps, I have seen some truly beautiful contraptions for keeping tomatoes caged. No matter what you do, however, wood has a definite age limit. It will rot. It will break. It will bend. If you go with wood cages, be prepared for yearly maintenance and/or re-building.
If you want sturdy cages that will last for many years without problems, I suggest going with metal. You have many options with metal, including welded wire, woven wire, fixed knot, galvanized, ungalvanized, and just about every size of hole spacing and guage you can think of. When choosing a metal mesh for your tomato cages, stick with welded-wire. Woven and fixed knot ARE sturdy for fencing applications, but they just don’t cut it for small, round tomato cages. After that, the choices are up to you. I can tell you this, though – I’ve tried the galvanized 2″x4″ fencing for tomato cages and it’s not pretty when harvest time comes. Sure, you can fit your hand in to reach for a tomato, but how are you going to get that tomato out when it’s wider than two inches?
I have settled on 6″x6″ concrete reinforcing mesh in 5’x150′ rolls. It’s not galvanized, so it will rust. Do the tomatoes care if it rusts? Nope. Do I care? Not in the least. Even if they’re rusty, I’ll still get many years out of them before they completely poop out on me. It comes in 10 guage, so it’s pretty thick. In preparation for making tomato cages using this mesh, you’ll want to make sure you have the following:
– A good pair of bolt cutters.
– A sturdy pair of leather work gloves.
– If your hands aren’t very strong, consider using a pair of pliers for bending the wire.
Once you are assembled and ready, start rolling the fencing out on a large, flattish surface. I used part of our roundabout driveway for this. I wanted my tomato cages to be at least 18″ in diameter, so I cut each section of the mesh after the 9th full square. I end up with pieces that look like this:
Here’s what it looks like after the cutting stage in our driveway.
See where the long ends are? I fold each of those in at a 90 degree angle, then pull the other side around and hook them together. Then I twist the rest of the long ends around the other end to secure it together. That’s it. No special tools (unless you need to use pliers), and no weaving wire around and around. I push on the connection a bit to get the tomato cage to take on a rounder shape instead of a tear-drop shape, then they’re ready to rock. I have a picture of the finished cages a couple posts down.
How much do these cost? Well, these rolls of mesh were $79 each. I get 32 cages out of each roll. That comes out to about $2.47 per cage. Versus $5 per crappy store-bought cage… that’s a steal!
Another day or two and I should finally be done getting all of the tomatoes in. It’s taking me a while between weeding, kids, cleaning house, and the damn clouds of mosquitoes. The tomatoes that have already been moved from the house to the garden are getting nice, deep green coloring and are looking a lot healthier. It’s difficult to get them in since they’re all so tall, so I take my time and try to be patient. Next year, if I even think about planting tomatoes this early again, I hope someone gives me a good forehead thunk. I’ll post pictures when I’m done. Wait until you see how well everything is growing!
Oh, and because the chickens are one week old now, here’s a video. 🙂