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Our Tomato Cages
June 6, 2017

Roll of remesh
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Finished tomato cage
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Years ago, I learned a way to make some outstanding tomato cages using welded wire concrete reinforcing mesh (remesh). The cages are tall enough that the tomato plants they support don't outgrow them until late in the season. After making my first bunch of them, I abandoned staking tomatoes or growing them on the ground, mulch, or plastic forever. This building of tomato cages will be my third in about fifty years of gardening, as the wire cages last a long time, but do eventually rust out.

Welded wire reinforcing mesh isn't cheap, so ones initial investment in the cages is significant. A small roll of the welded wire that will build about eight tomato cages runs around $50. Since we're growing more tomato plants than usual this year, I bought a 5' x 150' roll of remesh to replace our now short and brittle old cages. Note that I haven't had to build welded wire tomato cages for about ten years.

Building the cages is a pretty easy process. The wire grid is in six inch sections, which makes measuring it a snap. I roll out a section of the wire, holding the loose end of it down with something heavy, and cut off twelve sections of it with a set of bolt cutters. The last section is open to use to bind the cage closed. This yields a tomato cage about 21-22" in diameter, a perfect size for the semi-determinate tomato varieties we grow.

After cutting the wire to length, I cut off the bottom strand of wire. That leaves five or six inch pointed wire spikes to anchor the tomato cage in the ground. Note that the roll of wire has a lot of tension, so one has to be careful when cutting the last wire that it doesn't snap up and cut you. (I just had my tetanus shot...a Medicare freebie for we seniors.)

Remesh rolled out on floor Cutting remesh Binding cages into circle

At this point, one can go ahead and use the open, pointed ends of the wire to close the cage into circular form. I saw one site that suggested just making a hook of the pointed ends to close the cage. I prefer to wind the wire to make a permanent cage. Once the open wire ends are wrapped around to make the cage a circle, one just needs to trim off the extra wire from the open ends. But...

...I now add an additional step before finishing my cages. After seeing my first set of cages rust out at the bottom after just a few years, my second set got painted with Rustoleum. I spray the bottoms (with the sharp ends that will go in the ground) with Rustoleum Heavy Rust primer. Then I spray the whole cage with Rustoleum (usually Hunter Green), before spraying the top strand of the cage wire with white paint to make it more visible in low light.

Painting the cages before closing them into a circular shape seems to save time and paint. I line up four or five cages, one behind the other, and paint them all at once. But even with this method, it takes a good bit of paint, and my coverage is less than perfect.

Towards the end of my cage building project this time, I began running low on paint. Feeling particularly parsimonious, I cleared our paint shelf of all the old spray cans of Rustoleum and Krylonicon spray paint we had, no matter the color. A couple of new pepper cages got gray, while the last of the tomato cages are a mix of green, gray, red, and blue. I don't think the tomatoes and peppers will mind.

Painting cage base with heavy rust primer Adding green coat Painted remesh and cages

Do note that one of my completed tomato cages can be cut in half to make two ideal sized pepper cages. I'll add more about pepper cages below.

Perfect? Not Quite.

Earlirouge tomatoesEarlirouge and pole beansThe tomato cages I've described building here are the best I've ever used. An improvement would be if someone made some kind of plastic or vinyl coated remesh which would eliminate the need for painting.

Sadly, under windy conditions when the cages are top heavy with tomatoes, they can blow over, uprooting the tomato plant. It takes a good bit of wind, but we live in an increasingly windy area.

My answer to this problem has been to drive a T-post into the ground between each pair of cages. I use old, plastic coated clothesline wire to attach and anchor the cages to the T-post. My tomato cages no longer blow over.

While you don't need to pinch back suckers or tie up tomato branches with these cages, you still need to train the tomato branches to grow inside the cage. Branches that grow outside the cage often bend over the cage wire, cutting off circulation of water and nutrients to the end of the branch.

Storing these cages is a pain. It simply takes a lot of space, as they don't fold down, telescope, or anything like that. I used to store our cages through the winter months in an old shed. But the shed fell down several years ago. Now, I just push the cages into the ground in the corner of a field we take care of.

Tomatoes and Peppers In

How Many?

The 150 foot roll of remesh I purchased made the equivalent of twenty-four tomato cages. (One tomato cage got cut in half to make two pepper cages.) I ended up only using eighteen of the new cages this year. Five painted cages are still stuck in the ground outside without having been bound into circular cages. The smaller, fifty foot rolls of remesh commonly sold in hardware stores should make around eight tomato cages of the size we made.

 

Our Old Cages

Earliest Red Sweet Pepper PlantSince this wasn't my first go round building tomato cages, I had about ten old cages stuck in the corner of a field next to us. The old cages varied in height, as the bottoms of them had rusted out and broken or been trimmed off over the years. Several had been previously cut down to serve as pepper cages. But the tops of the old tomato cages were still in pretty good shape.

Rather than smashing down and hauling the old cages to the recycling center, I cut them to make them shorter and sometimes smaller in diameter to use as pepper cages. A few actually got a coat of paint. I've found that caging our pepper plants increases their productivity, as we have far less of their somewhat brittle branches breaking off. We also have little to no fruit touching the ground when using cages.

I also had a bunch of those short, V-shaped tomato cages the previous owner of our property left behind. While almost totally useless for tomatoes, they work pretty well for pepper plants. With our new cages built, the old V-shaped cages went to the local food bank and clothing/item store.

Safety Tips (again):

Remesh is rusty, right from the store. Make sure your tetanus shots are up to date before working with this stuff. You're almost certain to nick yourself with this wire in the construction process!

There's a lot of tension on a bound roll of woven wire. When you unclip it, it's going to expand with exceptional speed and considerable force. As you get to the end of the roll, the force of the wire seems to actually increase. I had a devil of a time getting the wire for the last cage to lie flat so that I could cut it. I had old treated timbers, a filled gas can, my heavy tool box, and other stuff weighing it down to finally keep it lying flat.

Disclaimer

I run a somewhat popular, niche web site. But just because I do so doesn't mean the information above or elsewhere on this site is the gospel truth. I just write about what works for us here on our ground, usually, when we're lucky. If you find something terribly amiss, please use the link below to let me know.

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