Skip to main content

Tomato cages for determined vines

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. 

Popular posts from this blog

Hand-Knit Trellis Now Ready for Climbing Foot-Long Beans

Just as the "June" gloom is starting to burn off, I finished my knitted trellis for the garden.

It completely surrounds one of our bamboo tripods, with space at the bottom for tending the romaine lettuces growing within the tripod.

It's knit out of nylon twine on US 35 needles. While the nylon has no stretch (the way a wool yarn does), the huge gauge has loads of give. The piece was knit flat with ties attached along one edge.  It is tied to the tripod along one leg.

One some early samples for a knitted plant trellis, I experimented with lace patterns.  They look lovely, but I realized two things. One, once the plants grow up the trellis any knitting pattern is lost. Secondly, the plants and leaves need space to grow in and out of.

I used a pattern for a shawl: k1, yo, k2tog and then repeat. I got lost a number of times: the yarn-overs drifted over other stitches on occasion. As this was a speed project that won't be visible ones the beans grow over it, I didn't w…

Harvesting the butternut squash

We worried about when to harvest the butternut squash. There's no greening, yellowing, reddening, deepening or other particular sign of ripeness once the squash grow to a certain size. Google Extension Service suggested harvesting before the first frost.  In California, that would be the day before Never.
In Nature's wisdom, the plants told us. The huge green vines that had sprung up on their own, just turned brown and shrank back on their own, leaving six heavy butternut squashes dangling from their red and yellow net bags. (We'd strung them up to keep them away from the wetness of the earth and the mouths of the snails.) We cut them down and divided the harvest.
My first butternut squash, I simply seeded, roasted and scraped the flesh from the shell. Butternut is bland, a lovely gold color, but -- yawn -- not much flavor.  But it was fresh and home grown. That imparts something wonderful to it, if you have the stillness and focus to be aware.

Winter planting in the garden

My first gardening experiences were in northeastern Oklahoma. There, the gardening season ended when the tomatoes quit producing.

By then, there was a nip in the air. The zinnias were stained brown and crispy. The nastursiums were shriveled and starting to be hidden by falling leaves. Crisp, juicy apples were filling the bins at the local grocery and it wasn't pleasant to hang around outdoors unless you were moving -- fast.