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Tomato Cages: How to Make Them Last Longer

Most basic, 3-foot tomato cages are too flimsy for your larger tomatoes. Learn how to make cages that last.

By Frank Hyman, Urban Farm contributor

tomato leaves in cage

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Many of the 3-foot-tall tomato cages on the market won’t hold a Better Boy or German Johnson tomato plant that wants to grow more than 5 feet high. Instead, I use long-lasting tomato cages I made from concrete reinforcing wire. It’s similar to fence wire, but the openings are all 6 by 6 inches, which makes it easy to pull 1-pound tomatoes through the cage.

Making cages from concrete wire is a good project for community gardens because the wire rolls are big and heavy. They’re also about $100 for a 5- by 150-foot roll that will make 27 cages — more than one gardener alone needs. To build them, you’ll need gloves, a bolt cutter and a couple of helpers. Lay down the wire, and have one helper stand on the end of the roll while a second helper unrolls the wire. Count a length of 11 full squares (51/2 feet), and clip the wire using bolt cutters so your cage has one edge with lots of wire "fingers” and the opposite edge is smooth. The wire is springy, so carefully pull the sides together and fold the "fingers” over the smooth side to create a tube with an 18-inch diameter that stands 5-feet tall. Often, my ‘maters grow taller than that, but I just let the vines dangle over the sides.

I grow four slicing-tomato plants in four cages arranged cheek-by-jowl in a square. To keep the cages from falling over, tie a 3-inch piece of jute string at each of the four points where the tops of the cages meet, creating a more stable footprint. That takes much less time and trouble and fewer materials than staking each cage — which, of course, leaves more time for battering up fried green tomatoes!

Give us your opinion on Tomato Cages: How to Make Them Last Longer.
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The method advocated here is one I have been using for three years after trying many others, and this is definitely the best I've tried. Think I'll get a 'mater right now...!
paul, International
Posted: 4/11/2014 8:57:13 AM
Gee, I like the BBQ spray paint suggested below. Thanks, Bruce.

I, too, is a fan of concrete mesh. Bought a galvanized, heavy gauge (I believe 14 gauge), 50' by 7' high roll with a 4 X 6 opening 30 years ago for $25.00. Made 8 cages with a diameter of 22" and a trellis 8' wide (about the spread of a 2 x 8 stock lumber). Used it for over 15 years.
Dante, Hyde Park, MA
Posted: 9/19/2013 2:20:42 PM
I tried this this year, and it is really helping my tomatoes!
Ellen, Madison, WI
Posted: 7/27/2013 5:46:00 AM
After years of storing cumbersome round tomato cages that still get squashed or the welds break, and using the square cages that are made of the same flimsy stuff, I opted to buy a roll of concrete mesh. 100' long, 5 feet wide with 6" x6" holes. I've made dozens and dozens of cages and have yet to lose one through storage problems or the like. They last forever, are tough enough to handle squash plants and vining plants. I even train my watermelons to grow in these. Nothing I've tried has been too much for them to handle.

I'll never go back to the traditional store-bought cages for any reason.

And about the rust? I use BBQ spray paint on them when I make them. No rust problem.
Bruce, Las Vegas, NV
Posted: 7/26/2013 7:59:47 AM

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