Monday, June 19, 2006

Tomato Cage Alternatives

I am experimenting with tomatoes this year. I chose 20 different varieties to plant, watch and critique. Of course I couldn't have just one plant of each. For safety I needed to plant at least two of each kind. That means I have over 40 tomato plants! Never mind how I'm going to use all of those tomatoes, I've spent the past month trying to figure out how I'm going to stake or cage that many plants.

I've never been a big fan of using stakes. It seems you are always tying them up and they fall down anyway, or pull the whole stake down. All of my friends use the cages that you can buy at Wal-Mart or the hardware stores. Many of those commercial cages are too small. The bigger ones are too costly. I had a few cages from previous gardens, but I set out to find other ways of tomato support.

Above on the left is an example of the store bought cage. Above on the right is one of my new tomato tables. I call it that because it is built like a topless table. The idea is that the plant will grow through it and spill out over the top. It should give it just enough support to keep the tomatoes off the ground (I hope). I'll let you know later this month if they work well or not. They are built out of scrap wood that my father-in-law gave me. The boards were part of crates that flowers are delivered in at the florist he works for. I am now building some double-decker tables to try, just in case my single level tables aren't tall enough.

In another area of the garden I'm trying a different approach for tomato support. These are my cherry and grape tomatoes. They are indeterminate and grow quite tall and skinny. As you can see in the picture on the left, they were already falling over and sprawling on the ground. The picture on the right is my solution.

This is my first tomato trellis, also built from scrap wood. I drove two ten foot boards into the ground and attached a top board by drilling holes big enough to drop long bolts down. I left the top board longer on the ends to hang a planter of flowers later for added beauty. To support the tomato plants I just tied clothesline to the top support and then to the base of the plant. I then wrapped the clothesline gently around the main stem of the plant to hold it upright.

This is very easy to make. You don't actually tie the clothesline to the tomato plant. You make a loop at the base of the plant so it is not tight as the plant grows. Several years ago I did this but tied the clothesline to a stake in the ground next to the plant. This worked too but some of the plants pulled the stakes out and fell over. I then switched to this method and it worked well. I'll let you know later if it works again this year.

Even with my tomato tables and tomato trellis; I still have some tomato plants without any support. Do any of you have any other suggestions for cheap and easy means of tomato support? I'd love to hear any ideas. If not, I guess I'll keep making tomato tables or resort to plain stakes. Don't you just want a BLT sandwich right about now?

3 comments:

Kirsten

Ugh - thanks for the info - my plants are loving life so they are growing - but they are now too big for their stake and need a new support. I need to find a solution!

Chad & Brandy

I have been using the topless table method this year and have to say it is very easy and effective. I did have to replace them with bigger ones this week though. My plants are about 6ft tall and the initial frame I made just wasn't working anymore.

Anonymous

One method I use for tomatoes is this: drive 4 inch diameter, 5-6 foot long cedar posts into the ground about 8 feet apart. Stretch wire across the top. I use electric fence wire. Plant the tomatoes under the wire.

As they grow, use surveyor's tape to hold them up and tie off the tape on the wire.

As the season progresses, you may need to add additional supports under the wire. I insert 2 inch square cedar stakes under the wire and use a small fencing staple to secure the wire to the top of the stake.

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