In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
February, 2001
Regional Report

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My tomato cage prototype is almost finished. A few modifications should make it work great for holding up even the heaviest tomatoes.

Supporting Tomatoes

I can't wait any longer. I'm thinking about tomatoes. I started a few seeds a couple of weeks ago, but while I wait for the seeds to germinate and grow and for spring to arrive, I'm turning my attention to my "tomato support dilemma."

The Problem

I always grow a variety of determinate, semi-determinate, and indeterminate types of tomatoes, so I need all types of support to accommodate the varying heights of the plants. Since the fruits are lightweight, I've had good luck building a bamboo tepee with a lattice of strings to support my tall-growing, indeterminate cherry tomatoes. But jute twine isn't strong enough to support the bigger tomato varieties I grow.

Tomato Cages

I've used traditional wire tomato cages for years, and although I've collected some really heavy-duty ones, I don't have enough cages for the number of tall tomatoes I grow. Many tomatoes are supported by flimsy or too-small cages that topple during the strong winds of July just as the plants peak with fruit. Then it's a patch-up job of using bamboo, iron, and scrap wood stakes to support the cages. As these tomatoes grow, I have to wire cage on top of cage to support them. Sometimes it works, but usually it doesn't. Mostly, it makes my garden look like a garbage dump with all shapes and colors of stakes and tomato plants leaning at all angles.

So, I'm going to solve this problem once and for all. I want a neat garden, not so much to show off, but so I can weed between my plants and give them enough air circulation to reduce the disease incidence. I just want my tomatoes to stand up!

Support Solutions

I've decided my solution for these indeterminate tomatoes is to build my own supports. I happen to have a barrel full of 3-foot tall, 2 x 2 deck spindles we salvaged when dismantling a deck a couple of years ago. I'm going to use them to build a square cage with ladder-like crosspieces to support tomato stems. I'm hoping to build a cage that's substantial enough to stand on its own in the garden without any staking to hold it in place.

I put together the prototype, and it looks like it will work. I used galvanized nuts and bolts to fasten the parts so they won't deteriorate in the weather. Also, I will be able to take the cages apart for storage, another major concern. It makes me crazy to keep piles of tomato cages with wires sticking out all over everywhere. My new cages will fold flat so I can store them neatly in the shed. Now I have some great support for my big tomato plants. If I can only figure out how to hold up Mexican sunflowers, I'll be in business.


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