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pinksand
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Building a tomato cage

I've been searching the forum and various garden blogs about building my own tomato cage. I have to admit that I get completely overwhelmed in hardware stores and when I went to Lowe's for materials yesterday I didn't get any of the materials I needed. I feel like the people who work there just point me to an aisle and when I can't find what I need I find someone else and they point me to another aisle... I just wandered for 30 minutes and gave up!

Here is the list I went with:
7' x 3.5' Mesh Mini-Panel (the kind used to reinforce concrete)
Double Loop Bar Ties
3' Metal stake

This is based on a tomato cage "recipe" that sounded easy, inexpensive, and sturdy. In what department would I find the wire panel? Also, we always have a million zip ties on hand because we use them on our mountain bikes. Would this work in place of the double loop bar ties? I feel that they'd be easier for me to install. The site suggested just using one 3' metal stake, but do you think two would be better? The panel is 7' tall, do you think 3' stakes would be sufficient?
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hendi_alex
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Re: Building a tomato cage

I buy a roll of concrete re-enforcing wire and form cages that are about 2 foot diameter, ten sections I think. When the section is cut, it leaves a length of wire that can be bent around the adjacent side to hold the cage together. Depending upon the Lowes store, the wire comes in 50 foot, 100 foot, or 250 foot rolls. The cages are much more economic if made from a roll. I also spring for a 6 foot solid steel T-post for stand alone support. They are only about $4-$5 and will last a life time. As an alternative, a post can be placed at each end of a row, a guide wire is then passed from one post to the other, while passing through the top section of each cage. Then twist tie the cage to keep it from sliding along the wire. That was my exclusive method when tomatoes used to be planted in rows. Now I exclusively use T-posts.
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pinksand
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Re: Building a tomato cage

This is really my first year growing veggies and I only have one 'Early Girl' tomato plant so at this point I'm only planning to build one cage. My husband and I are not a huge tomato consumers but like them on sandwiches and use them in recipes now and then so I don't think I could keep up with more than one. Next year I'll probably plant 'Early Girl' and another variety that produces later in the season but need to prepare more space before I can accommodate another tomato plant. In what department do you find the re-enforcing wire? Do you think that zip ties would work to hold it together?
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JayPoc
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Re: Building a tomato cage

If you're only doing one, then (IMO) just buy a premade "cage". Get the tallest one you can, and you'll be fine. Your plant will probably grow out through the top, but that isn't a big deal. You could even extend it with scraps of fencing, etc. you might have laying around.

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hendi_alex
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Re: Building a tomato cage

I've never found ready made cages that were any good for indeterminate tomatoes. I think that your plan to buy the single sheet of re-enforcing wire is sound. Last I looked, those were about $12 and will make a very good cage that will last at least 10-20 years. I would still rec. using a t-post as it will do a much better and easier job of securing the cage. I use 6-8 inch pieces of scrap copper housing wire to twist tie the cage to the post.
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pinksand
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Re: Building a tomato cage

Yeah, I haven't found any decent cages besides super expensive ones available by mail order or only available in bulk. I figured it would be better to be over prepared than under-prepared support wise so the plant doesn't fall and snap or something. The tallest cages I've seen are only about 4' while the 'Early Girl' I have will get 6-8' tall. I'll also try out a single t-post instead of the 3' metal stakes. Thanks for the suggestion!
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applestar
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Re: Building a tomato cage

FWIW -- at HD (orange big box) one year, they had those sheets/panels in the back of garden section where they keep pallets of all purpose sand. It was tucked in between pallets and not easy to find. When I went during off season, the garden section was closed and they told me to look for the sheets of CRW panels in the last aisle beyond the lumber aisles where I would also find hardware cloth and cinder blocks.

Don't know if lowes follow the same logic.

I have to tell you that after considering making my own cages, I backed away from the idea. My reasoning was high budget, lack of help in making anything heavy duty, they way they take up a set amount of space in garden beds, difficulty in weeding inside, and realizing that I have to STORE those things during the winter somewhere somehow (I had hoped to flatten them for storage, but was told thus wasn't feasible).

I then considered cattle panel fences/walls which are sturdier, but they were too big to transport in/on my SUV.

So I have a few CRW panels that BIL got for me, and I use the biggest (4ft) cone shaped cages for the dwarfs (smaller ones for peppers and eggplants) but otherwise, I'm preferring stake and string using two 7 ft bamboo poles per plant, then tying jute strings between the stakes to support the side branches. Strings are wrapped twice around each stake in Florida weave, sandwiching the vines, and the vines are twisted around the strings or leaves are hooked on as they grow. (Last year Spiral Tomato Garden)

I buy a bundle of bamboo poles from AM Leonard's every few years. They last several years depending on application, and when they break down, I put them in the compost or just on the paths to step on and crunch until they are mulch.

I think if I'm back when I was only growing six or so tomatoes and had a lot of spending money, I might consider those Texas cages -- the kind that folds up for storage. They look kind of cool. Another idea I had before I found myself growing nearly 100 plants was to make my own square cages in two piece L shaped panels zip tied together.
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JayPoc
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Re: Building a tomato cage

I think our local big boxes get the cone shaped ones, the largest are either 56" or 58", I forget which. They work ok. The plants do shoot out of the top before all is said and done, but I either just let them cascade over the top, or when dealing with several plants together, connect all the tops of the cages to each other with either a series of stakes or a piece of fence/cage materials.

If you can get the materials to make one according to your plans, go for it. But if you'd rather not invest 30 bucks or so to make one cage, the others will do in a pinch...especially for just a single plant...

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applestar
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Re: Building a tomato cage

Yeah the colored green vinyl coated ones. By the time you stick them in the ground enough to be supportive, I think they are 4 ft (4 ft ones are 3 ft). They worked even on big indeterminates when tied together side by side. Inner spiral in last year's Spiral Tomato Garden. By the end of the season, the vines were crawling along the tops and even had crossed the middle path of the spiral and bridged over. :shock:
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pinksand
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Re: Building a tomato cage

It looks like HD has a 42 in. x 84 in. reinforcing wire panel for $7.25 (if I can find it!). The back of the garden section with sand and fencing materials is where I was looking in Lowe's. Maybe I'll have better luck in HD! They also have a 6' heavy duty steel t-post for $4.88. If I use heavy duty zip ties, which we already have a huge pack of, then the cost shouldn't be too exorbitant and should hopefully produce a more sturdy cage. I'll have to recruit my husband help me bend the wire panel since it sounds like a 2 person job.

Storage is a very good point applestar! I think storing 1 or two should be doable but I'll definitely have to come up with a different solution if I expand more than that.

What do you do with all those tomatoes applestar?!
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applestar
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Re: Building a tomato cage

Give them away, make to-die-for luxury sauces with the heirlooms, freeze them to savor in winter....

I have to tell you it was a catch-22 last year. I had too many plants in production and just taking care of them and harvesting them kept me so busy that I couldn't find the time to preserve them other than washing de-stemming and freezing. I had bags of color sorted heirlooms and colorful cherry tomatoes in the freezer looking and feeling like marbles. :lol:
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pinksand
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Re: Building a tomato cage

If all goes well this year maybe I'll try to make some of my own sauces next year. If the time comes you'll be hearing from me ;) How do you store them and how long do they keep? I LOVE a good tomato sauce!

I think I'd have to put a farm stand in front of my house with a "FREE" sign if I had 100 tomato plants. I can't imagine keeping up with their care or even begin to make a dent in eating them lol. It sounds like a full time job and I certainly wouldn't want to hand make 100 cages so I see how that wouldn't make sense for you!
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grrlgeek
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Re: Building a tomato cage

Pinksand,

In most HD and Lowes stores, the CRW and related items will be found in the Building Materials department... Look for the lumber. Near the boards you'll see concrete block and bags of cement. Near to the cement will be the CRW. You'll also find the fencing supplies - like fence posts and chicken wire in this area.

The garden department is where you'll find decorative fencing and border/edging stuff, along with decorative pavers and stepping stones, small redwood posts, and trellis material.

Good luck!
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pinksand
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Re: Building a tomato cage

Thank you grrlgeek! That location makes sense, I'll look there first when I go for my supplies :)
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gixxerific
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Re: Building a tomato cage

I will say that bending flat panel is not easy nor recommended. Though it can be easily used in a trellis/Florida weave situation.

I am in construction I get my CRW (Concrete Reinforcing Wire) for free left over after jobs. It works great I cut mine to 11-12 squares with and extra to bend over to close them together. That makes basically a 24 in. diameter. This is still a bit risky but worthwhile, just remember safety glasses and gloves. I have made many cages and I know what I'm doing but I still end up poked, scratched and bleeding after I'm done.

Please be careful these rolls are under a lot of pressure especially near the end.

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applestar
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Re: Building a tomato cage

Good point Gixx. I forgot that the flat ones are not good for rolling into a circular cage.

I was inspired by this thread to make this one:
image.jpg
I had a moment of utter frustration when I couldn't figure out how to use the fence clips. Whip out the iPad... And...this side of the house is too far away from the wifi to access internet. (Arrrrgh !). But do you know I really needed the break after pounding the two T-posts in (yeah I said TWO). Found a YouTube about the fence clip bender tool (obviously so easy) and had another moment of frustration that the guy at TS did not tell me I needed one of those when he handed me the clips.

Well, no biggie. I found a rusty big nail in my pile of junk by the back door that was perfect for the job, and the straight side wasn't too hard to bend with a pair of pliers.
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pinksand
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Re: Building a tomato cage

Nice Applestar! Well I did find the metal panels but they were all coated in rust... is that a problem? I bought a t-stake and was considering just tying the tomato plant to the stake for now. I've never grown a tomato plant this size before and just don't know what to anticipate. Would the stake be sufficient or will the branches also need support? Could I build something similar to applestar's, not having to bend or cut the wire and tie the branches to the trellis as it grows?
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Re: Building a tomato cage

I used that 42 x 84 panel..... I cut 5 squares in length from each and bent the "hooks" on one side and closed them up. Then I put them in place, and took rebar and wove them through the squares, and then hammered the rebar into the ground about halfway.

I took all the scraps ( the 5 squares ) and made a square cage for a pepper plant that should get pretty large. ( I had 4 of those big panels )
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pinksand
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Re: Building a tomato cage

applestar wrote:Good point Gixx. I forgot that the flat ones are not good for rolling into a circular cage.

I was inspired by this thread to make this one:
image.jpg
I had a moment of utter frustration when I couldn't figure out how to use the fence clips. Whip out the iPad... And...this side of the house is too far away from the wifi to access internet. (Arrrrgh !). But do you know I really needed the break after pounding the two T-posts in (yeah I said TWO). Found a YouTube about the fence clip bender tool (obviously so easy) and had another moment of frustration that the guy at TS did not tell me I needed one of those when he handed me the clips.

Well, no biggie. I found a rusty big nail in my pile of junk by the back door that was perfect for the job, and the straight side wasn't too hard to bend with a pair of pliers.
So I think I'll be trying your method applestar! I ended up moving my tomato plant (ugh I'm so bad about moving things when I probably shouldn't!) because I realized it wasn't getting as much sun as I'd anticipated after removing a massive Rose of Sharon. The plant had already established quite the root system but I dug a very wide hole around the roots and it seemed to recover nicely in its new location and should hopefully be happier and more productive in the long run. I had big plans for working in the garden over the holiday weekend but had to make an emergency trip to CO to say goodbye to my grandmother and obviously everything was postponed :( I'm planning to run to HD for the panel and another t-stake this evening.

Is twine acceptable for training the tomato plant along the grid or should I buy some hosiery to cut up and use as ties? It's so funny, everyone I've asked about tomato staking has acted like I'm insane because they've only grown determinates. "No, seriously Mom, it can get taller than me, a little cage won't do!"
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