Saturday, May 12, 2007

My Experience with Tomato Cages and Stakes

Growing tomatoes vertically

I prefer to grow tomatoes in a cage or tied to a stake or trellis (rather than letting them sprawl on the ground) because:

  • I have trouble with bermudagrass and it can get started all too easily in areas I can't see, such as under vines.
  • Our summer weather is very humid. The fruit gets better air circulation when the plants are off the ground and the fruit rot problem is greatly reduced.
  • I can plant twice as many tomatoes in the same space if I stake or cage them. (In fact, you can grow all the tomatoes you can eat in a strip that's six or eight feet long if you grow them vertically.)

I have bought tomato cages several times, so I have several different sorts. I took a good look at them yesterday and I can offer some advice about judging their quality when purchasing them. Look at how many rings they have as well as how many legs they have.

  • Best: 4 legs and 4 rings
  • OK: 3 legs and 4 rings
  • Weaker: 3 legs and 3 rings

Even with 4 legs, I usually put a stake through the cage to help steady it as the plant inside grows. A big tomato plant with lots of fruit is heavy. When all that foliage gets soaked in heavy rain and the ground goes squishy and maybe the wind is blowing too, the tomato cage can tip to one side.

Tomatoes on the vineI always grow my pepper plants inside tomato cages, but I don't always use tomato cages for my tomato plants. This year, I'm going to stake the tomatoes. I have planted each tomato by a steel fence post. As the plants grow, I'll weave twine around a plant, around a post, around the next plant, around the next post, etc. If I remember to add some twine about once a week, it works well.

Steel fence posts are the ultimate tomato stake. The longest ones are five feet tall in the ground, maybe a little more. You can count on them to stand firm, no matter what the weather or the plants do. They have handy notches on one side that keeps your string from sliding down, and they're reusable for a couple decades or more.

You should also buy a fence post pounder. It's a heavy steel tube with handles, closed on one end, that slips over top of the fencepost. To drive the post, put the pounder in place and then raise it a little and let it fall to whack the post into the ground. It is vastly easier to use a fence post pounder than to drive the fenceposts with a sledge hammer.

When it's time to pull up the fence posts, they are much easier to remove when the ground is thoroughly wet. Just "wee-waw" them in all directions, and they'll come right out.

Related posts:
My Vegetable Garden
A Composter but not an Organic Gardener
Tomatoes Someday

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Marion in Savannah said...

Thanks for this post. I'm a newbie gardener and have some tomato plants in containers this year, but am looking to have them in the ground in raised beds next year. I've printed out your post and will use it for guidance. Thanks again.

Genevieve said...

Marion, I hope your tomatoes do great for you this year.

Raised beds are great, but probably not essential. Anywhere you've got a few square feet of earth that gets plenty of sunshine, you can plant a tomato.

Just remove the grass and roots (about the first inch or two of sod) completely. Then add some compost (available in a bag at the discount stores), spade it up good, and plant your tomato. You can cut or pinch off the leaves on 3/4 of the stem and put it in the ground that deep. It will grow roots all along the buried stem and be a stronger plant.

Belladonna said...

Have you ever considered the alternative to tomatoe bondage - instead of putting them in cages on the ground, hanging them upside down? I've not done it myself yet, but I've heard it words well. Check it out
HERE for a home-made version or HERE for a more fancy commercial type.

Genevieve said...

Bondage? That's about right, sometimes. :D

Of course the real way to escape the bondage is to just buy tomatoes at the produce stand.

I had never before heard of the idea of growing them upside down! Amazing!

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