Creating Tomato Cages that don’t Suck

I read somewhere, I think in Sunset, a blurb that said “humans have managed to put a man on the moon, but we haven’t invented a tomato cage that actually works”. This made me laugh, because, as every gardener knows, the flimsly 3-teired cages sold for tomatoes do absolutely nothing. They work great for eggplant and peppers, but the tomatoes will grow right past and MOCK you for thinking the cage would be supportive.

Knowing that the average tomato cage is useless, last year we naïvely thought that sticks and twine would be sufficient to hold back the masses of vines and branches. And yes, I know you can prune and pinch back, but they just grow so fast! In case I need to remind you of tomato situation, 2011:

"I see you stake, and raise past you 4 extra feet"
bewildered at the next branch to try and tie up
forging through the vines to bring mischievous Gaia inside. note the string, tied to string, trying to hold back a branch to make the path passable

Armed with this knowledge, this year we made the investment and bought a roll of hog fencing. This is hardcore metal fencing, with big 6″ squares. We got a roll of 50 feet, at 5 feet in height, and spent last Sunday making cages.

To make tomato cages, the first step is to unroll out the wire. When you buy it, it will most likely have one row half cut out, leaving wire “arms” wrapped around inside squares. These are your friends, and are very useful.  Lay the wire on its side and carefully unbend until the wire roll has sprung loose from its tight roll. Use pliers to bend the edge of each non-attached-to-a-square wire “arm” into little hooks. Push the wire against your leg for leverage.

step 1, curl edges.

Carefully unbend until the wire roll is loose. Its very stiff, and you have to step on it as you try and push it back. DON’T step off, or it will smack you in the face. Using rocks or flower pots won’t work as anchors. Trust me.

step 2, unroll

Have someone stand on the other end of the wire until you roll it out to the length that you want. Remember you are going to make a circle, so you need to go about twice as long as you want your circle width to be. We hoped to get 10 cages our of our 50 foot roll, so we stopped off at 5 feet.

step 3, sit on the wire

We tried multiple ways to getting the wire to stay put while we tried to cut it, but it always rolled back. We discovered the easiest way is just to sit on the roll. MAKE SURE someone is standing on the unrolled side, or it will snap back and hit the sitting person in the face.

step 4, cut

While seated on the highly uncomfortable roll of wire, we used a Dremel to cut at our 5 feet mark. After trying both wire cutters and the SawsAll, it seemed to be the most effective. Make sure you have extra cutting disks. We went through a disk every two cages. You want to cut right BELOW the square weld, leaving the little wire “arms” for the next cage available.  Note my foot weighing down the wire while Matt anchors the other end. Once you have it cut, CAREFULLY step off the wire, and then gather the cut portion into a hoop.

step 5, hoop and pinch

Loop your pre-bent hooks over the square on the other side, and use pliers to pinch them shut. I let Matt do this, I didn’t even bother to try. That wire is strong!

step 6, pile cages behind you

Finish pinching the wire around each opposite square, then pile behind you! Repeat: bend, roll, cut, curve, pinch! Our 50 feet of wire got us 9 cages, each about 2.5 feet diameter. We were hoping for 10 but I think that we gradually loss a few inches each time we cut.

A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins. -Laurie Colwin


10 thoughts on “Creating Tomato Cages that don’t Suck

  1. Hint, determine the diameter needed for your tomato cage. multiply diameter by 3 to get the length of wire fencing you will need. Yes, yes I know that using the diameter X 3 rule will give you a cage slightly smaller that your stated diameter, so for you perfectionists multiply diameter by 3.1415 to get a more accurate wire fencing length.
    Happy Gardening and DIY projects

      1. Eeeek, I did not mean to in anyway question or try correct your your math skills. many people simply don’t know the easy to remember diameter X 3 rule…

  2. Love it! You are so right about those expensive, useless cages. I’ve resorted to my own system too. Three T-posts (for cattle fencing) driven in (making them 5 feet tall) and sisal twine encircling them from bottom to top. It doesn’t look very pretty, but the temporary cage supports at least 90% of the plant. My tomatoes have reached 6-to-7 feet in height in the past — a 3-ft-tall store-bought cage is clearly inadequate. Also, T-posts take up little space for off-season storage and the sisal is composted with the bush.

  3. This is a great idea. I always put wood in the ground and then tie them up with twine. I’ll try this more permanent solution once I get settled. =)

  4. If you have any leftover concrete reinforcing wire, it makes great cages. The 6×6 spacing allows you to reach through to harvest the tomatoes (or peppers) and the 5 foot width is plenty tall. If you cut off the first horizontal wire, you are left with a number of 6″ pins to stabilize the cage.

  5. The Amish around here (middle Tennessee) use five foot 1×1 stakes and baling twine. A stake between each plant and twine every 9-18 inches going up run the length of the row. loop it around the stake before going to the next plant. Stakes are .25% each and the twine is inexpensive. Stakes will last about 2-3 years if stored indoors during the off season. Works well for longer rows of tomatoes.

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