thoughts about this tomato "cage" design

drcindy(z8 WA)February 11, 2014

Hi everyone,

I just bought an 8 x 12 greenhouse and am very excited to experiment with tomato plants in it. I previously had a little 7x7 raised bed for the past 10 years, where I always squeezed in too many plants, making it difficult to harvest.

I plan on devoting one side of the greenhouse to indeterminate heirloom tomatoes, and will be planting directly in the ground. The area will be roughly 3 x 12. My husband is proposing to build something and I'd like your thoughts. He will have 4 tall wooden stakes/posts to border this area. He wants to add "shelves" of wire, maybe with 6 inch grids, so that the stems can grow up and thru them. I told him we'd probably need about 3 such shelves, and maybe to space them apart similarly to the concentric hoops on a regular tomato cage. Any thoughts on this? It sounded like a nice alternative to using regular tomato cages. Also, how many tomato plants could I safely put in this area? Thanks in advance!

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This sounds like an interesting idea and, while it seems like it would work, I'm not sure it would be efficient. It sounds like the idea is to have a few shelves of remesh or something similar that are parallel to the ground at various heights. I think this would require some lateral support for the shelves. Now we're talking a lot of material and effort for each cage. At that point, I think you'd be better off making a traditional remesh cage. It would require less of the same materials, be much more portable, and take much less time.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2014 at 10:37PM
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drcindy(z8 WA)

Hi elight,

yes, you're right, hubby is talking about remesh-type shelves parallel to the ground at various heights. And yes, I imagine if we run this for the 12' length of the greenhouse, it may need some other support posts along that length so the shelves won't sag. He was thinking of just putting in notches of some sort into the posts that the shelves would fit into, as he believes it will later be easy to remove the shelves for storage. I don't know if I'm interested in traditional remesh cages though. I have the usual tomato cages which do a decent job, but hubby thought this idea may work better.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2014 at 11:42PM
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bcfromfl(z8a NW FL)

I'm assuming your greenhouse is a kit? Unfortunately, you won't be able to keep an 8x12 greenhouse cool enough in the summer, while giving your plants the light they need.

I have a homemade greenhouse for my orchids, that measures 8x14 with a 9-foot peak. I have two 24" fans, one on the intake at ground level and the other on the exhaust side, each putting out about 3500 CFM. (Retail greenhouses are notorious for having undersized exhaust openings, which don't allow enough airflow. Passive roof vents don't move enough air, especially if the heat gain is high.) The intake side blows through a "chiller" compartment I built on the side, that has about a dozen fogging nozzles...but that only is effective at a relative humidity value below about 35-40%.

Despite all this, when it's 90F outside and the direct sun is hitting the structure, I'm lucky if I can keep the inside temp at ~95F. When the humidity is under 25% and the chiller is running, I can expect 5 to 8 degrees below ambient outside temps. Here in the Florida panhandle, that only occurs a few days in the springtime.

I have just under 1,000 cubic feet of interior volume, but interior obstructions, hanging plants, benches, etc., keep my turnover somewhere between 60 and 90 seconds. Static air, especially humid air, has "weight." If you use the calculators you find online for sizing fans, you'll be way under what you need.

A few years ago I only had a single fan running on the exhaust side. I remember I got into hot water when the fan died, and I couldn't locate another quickly to replace it. I opened the door, but temps inside rocketed to 120F during the day. Now I always keep a backup for emergencies!

As far as tomatoes go, I would use your greenhouse as more of a cold frame to get your plants started early, and plant outside during the summer. You may have luck with a fall/winter crop inside, but heating will be a challenge depending upon your nightly lows. Another problem planting in the ground, inside the greenhouse, is soil compaction. I guarantee there won't be a lot of room for you to move around, and you'll have difficulty tilling and tending the soil in tight quarters. A *woops* with the blade of a shovel could ruin an expensive polycarbonate panel!

Don't mean to be a Debbie downer...


    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 1:01AM
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I wouldn't put any more than 4 plants in that area. Three
feet is the spacing I've heard most. Of course, you could
cram in more than that, but then they'll be overcrowded.

Myself, I'd only put in 3.

Follow the link for another angle on cages. My PVC cage.
Don't need any shelves, just tie the vines to the uprights
and everything's fine. Been doing it this way for years.
They'd be real easy to set up in your greenhouse.

I like your idea of shelves, but let's hope the tomatoes
grow at the same level as your shelves.

Here is a link that might be useful: Tom's tomato cage page

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 3:26AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Another alternative for CAGE in greenhouse can be STRINGING. Just googl it and see Youtube videos.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 5:41AM
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kudzu9(Zone 8a - PNW)

I agree with seyson that stringing is the best choice. Once the plants start growing and getting bushy, the 6" grids will increasingly become a problem for getting at the branches and arranging them. I have found stringing to be excellent for getting the branches arranged for good production and for maximum flexibility.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 6:16AM
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Run a cable lengthwise 18 inches in from the side of the greenhouse overhead along the roof. From this cable you can attach nylon cord/s to run to the base of the plants. As the plants grow attach nylon tomato clips to the plant and cord. If you choose to have more than one main stem just run another cord from the overhead cable to the plant. The clips can be reused for 2-3 seasons.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 9:32AM
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