Last summer’s tumbling tower of tomatoes has made me rethink the standard tomato cage. They are great for determinate tomatoes that grow like shrubs. They are useless for indeterminant tomatoes that spread out like a thoroughbred on the home stretch.
A search for alternatives led me to discover these ideas:
- Los Angeles landscape architect Rhett Beavers takes standard tomato cages and stacks them wide-end to wide-end with a central bamboo support. He then plants the seedlings deep in a layer of compost so they develop deep roots along the stem to support the plant.
- Ivette Soler, author of The Edible Front Yard and blogger at thegerminatrix.com, makes her own tomato cages out of rebar and concrete reinforcing mesh. For those not so willing to do creative construction, she recommends tomato ladders from Gardener’s Supply. These are three upright stakes connected at seven points with a rounded, v-shaped horizontal form that protects the plant’s main stem. Each ladder is 6-inches wide, six-inches deep and stands 57” tall. It can hold up to 100 pounds of fruit. Three ladders in either red or green cost about $40. Gardener’s Supply also sells 8-inch square, 65-inch high tomato towers.
Ever the do-it-yourselfers, we looked at several homegrown ideas:
- Well-installed permanent post that we could string with twine in various configurations for growing vining plants on.
- Rods hammered into the ground and hung with fencing so the tomato plants could go out sideways sort of like espaliered fruit trees.
- Firmly implanted poles hung with large scale knitting through which to weave the tomato plant.
We quickly ran up against the two things that have clipped more creative wings than anything else: time and money. One does not start knitting trellises while the tomato plants wilt in their flats. We quickly learned that fencing isn’t cheap. It’s also heavy. It really needs professionally installed uprights to stay vertical.
We opted instead for a commercial mesh of string that we attached to metal uprights with velcro plant ties. It certainly gives us the space to let a tomato vine spread out to the sides. Will it be strong enough, though? Time will tell.