Wednesday, June 2, 2010

tomato cages are ugly

Stainless steel tomato spirals used in the
2009 edible landscape
Does anyone out there agree? I can think of few things that detract from the beauty of a garden more than tomato cages. And it really doesn't help much to buy ones that are painted green. Come on, you can't fool me with green paint. Last year I tried some nifty stainless steel tomato spirals, which I'll admit were very cool. But they only really worked for small-fruited and thin-stemmed varieties. Bulkier varieties just took the slender spirals down with them and required additional staking later in the season. This year I am determined to devise a sturdy, functional, and fabulous looking method of supporting tomatoes in the Edible Landscape. I'm not looking to buy the latest gadget. Rather, I want to construct something of natural materials or use found objects. So, faithful readers, I need your help. Post a comment with your suggestions, or if you have photos send them by email and I'll post them (since I can't figure out a way for you to post them right here). Just click on my profile pic to find my email address.

Please act fast and send your ideas, the tomatoes are growing quickly!

12 comments:

  1. I don't like cages because they fall over so easily. I made a long trellis for my tomatoes. I just used concrete reinforcing mesh. The mesh itself isn't pretty, but the tomatoes take over the whole thing (at least if they're indeterminate like mine) and they stay tidy. Mine are all in a long row. You could shape the mesh into Us for each plant, that might look more ornamental but still be sturdy.

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  2. Thanks for the comment! It's true, once the tomato plants grow up a bit they tend to hide whatever support they've got anyway. But sturdiness sure is the key!

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  3. This is the second time I've seen those lovely spirals in the last 2 minutes! (http://www.theminnesotagarden.com/2010/06/this-years-vegetable-garden.html)

    Where does an amateur gardener find these designer stakes? I found metal cages for FREE (sitting there street-side) in Linden Hills the other week. Score :)

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  4. You can find tomato spirals at most of the larger local garden centers. Those I've seen locally are painted green or other wild colors. If you like the stainless steel, do a google search for 'stainless steel tomato spirals' to find online sources. I found them at Lee Valley Tools. Good luck!

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  5. Emily, an idea I'm playing with is a scaled-down version of the saw-horses that are used in high tunnel tomato production. The saw-horses hold a beam over the tomato row and a support cord hangs down from the beam to the plants below. If overbuilt it could be visually intrusive, but if done with weathered wood or found materials, it might add vertical interest as well as support. - Tom

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  6. the best tomato cages i've found are constructed from rolls of cattle panel. you encircle the tomato with the panel, tie it together, and stake it down with rebar or a metal fencepost.

    the cattle panel "squares" are wide enough to put your hand through so you can pick through the fencing. it is the only fencing i know of with openings large enough. it is also quite strong. we shared the expense of the large roll of fencing by selling off individual cages we made. nothing else i know of is has both 1)sturdyness and 2) accessability.

    tools:
    1 roll cattle panel
    wire snips/cutters
    fasteners (twist ties? twine? bend back on itself to make a circle? pieces of wire?)
    stake (metal rebar or fencepost is what i use)

    just remember to put them on BEFORE the plants get big. that's the difference in EASY and a HASSLE!

    -Michael Whitmire
    Southeastern Appalachian Piedmont SC
    Clemson University

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  7. I'm wondering the same thing - I'm going to experiment with a strong tee-pee made of curly willow branches next year

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  8. The tomato plant support I'm using (after many trials and errors with other support options) is the one mentioned above- cattle panels with fence posts. It's not super pretty but it's not the most unattractive option either. It works in my potager of sorts veggie garden.

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  9. I know you said you were looking to make something of natural materials rather than purchase something, but I thought for others I would share a purchased solution that I have been very happy with for many years (maybe 7 now?). I too tried many natural supports, but have never found one that I found to be sturdy enough. Gardener's Supply sells something they call Tomato Ladders. They are super sturdy and have never bent or collapsed on me. They nest together for compact storage in winter. And in summer as the tomato grows, they completely camouflage the ladders. I like this in edible landscape settings. For tall plants, they also have tomato extensions for the ladders. I just bought some but have yet to try them out and see if they remain as sturdy. I have no connection to Gardener's Supply - just like many of their products.

    http://www.gardeners.com/Tomato-Ladders/VegetableGardening_TerrificTomatoes,38-184RS,default,cp.html

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  10. Thanks for the tip, Winnie. True, the plants grow so quickly that they hide the support in almost no time. Maybe I'll give the tomato ladders a try this year. Thanks for the link. :)

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