No more Mr. Cheapy, I need STURDY tomato cages that will last

nick_b79(4/5 Southeast MN)August 8, 2010

I've been struggling with cheap wire tomato cages every year, and this year will be the last. I tried out Abe Lincoln heirlooms for the first time this year, and they grew beautifully in our soil. Every plant was shoulder-high or better, bursting over the tops of the cages. Then, a very strong storm hit 3 weeks ago with straight-line winds over 50 mph and a tornado touch-down 3 miles away! The tomatoes were all blown over: the stems didn't break but rather the wire cages just bent under the combined weight and wind. Staking them up with bamboo rods didn't work since the cages were so weak and each one contained at least 30 lb of tomato plant.

Can anyone recommend brands and sources of solid steel tomato cages or supports, or have plans to build your own out of rebar or other heavy metals? I want something that will last decades, even if it costs $10 or more per cage. Thanks!

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My PVC cage design will cost you more than $10 a cage, but
I know they will last for decades. My oldest cages are at
least 20 years old now and show no signs of wear.

They're strong too. Not sure that they're tornado strong,
but I had one person who went through an official tropical storm.
It had been downgraded from a hurricane. He had my cages and a few
other cages and my design held up the best.

Follow the link for more information.

Here is a link that might be useful: PVC Cage link

    Bookmark   August 8, 2010 at 1:51AM
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Bets(z6A S ID)

Hi Nick,

Many peple here on the forum use CRW (Remesh or Concrete Reinforcing Wire.) Our local Lowe's store has a 150' x 5' roll for $120.00 which will make about 24 cages about 23" in diameter. That would mean the cages will cost you about $5.00 each if you don't count your time, blood, sweat, tears, swear words, and blisters. (Heavy gloves, a bolt cutter and a sturdy helper are things that are highly recommended when making CRW cages and not included in the price.) Considering that they should give 15-20 years service, that is a reasonable price. Many people use a rebar stake or two to hold them down in heavy winds. They are however, bulky to store if you don't use zip ties or some method that make them so you can open them for easy stacking.

Triangular or square cages out of re-mesh could be done, but you'd get fewer from a roll, maybe 15-20 depending on the size you cut the sides. They would be easy to take apart in the fall and store in a lot less space.

If you have a couple dozen plants, CRW cages work well. If however, you have a lot of tomato plants (more than 100 plants, I am afraid to count them) then an excellent option is the Florida Weave method of support. I use steel fence posts on the ends and 2"x2" wooden posts between pairs of plants. One year I tried to skimp and put the wooden posts between plants in groups of 3, I won't do that again. I bought a roll of 20,000 feet of baling twine (doesn't stretch much) for under $25.00 several years ago and still have a lot of it left (I try to gather it up each year and roll it up to reuse.) I think I paid less than $10 each for my 6 and 8 foot T posts, and about $1.00 to $1.50 for the 2"x2"x8' "furring strips". If 2x4s are on a good sale, I will buy them and rip them down the center with my table saw, so they might be 75¢ or less. I try to paint the bottom two feet or soak them in linseed or tung oil to help prevent rotting, but I don't always do that. Posts that rot get moved to the determinate rows, and then to other uses. I get 3-4 years out of each wooden post and I have been gradually replacing them with new wood or t-posts, if I can pick them up at a farm sale at a good price. Storage space is minimal.

Using the Florida Weave has been cost effective for me and this year I bought a tool as a present to myself that is WONDERFUL for tying up tomato plants (and other things) and saves so much time. It is the Ty 'mup from Johnny's Selected Seeds.

Hope that helps.


Here is a link that might be useful: CRW Threads

    Bookmark   August 8, 2010 at 4:02AM
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Google Texas Tomato Cage. I have both Texas and CRW home-mades. The Texas are far superior. Texas never need extra staking like the CRW do. Plus they fold flat for easy storage, don't rust and are a foot taller (6 vs 5) than my CRW's.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2010 at 7:35AM
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austinnhanasmom(5 CO)

I like the CRW cages but prefer the Florida Weave.

After using both, the CRW cages support the height of taller plants better, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE my Florida Weave.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2010 at 10:34AM
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after fooling with commercial gages for years I built my own this yr; 8.5 feet tall, tom are already over the top.
I had a local mill cut me 2 X 2 8 1/2 foot long white cedar "stakes" four uprights and 1 inch cross members; interior is 20 X 20 inch.
let me know if you want a photo.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2010 at 7:12AM
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I bought six Texas tomato cages this year and think they are over rated. My biggest plants are making them tip over and I have to prop them up with a stick. They also seem kind of flimsy. They should have some kind of locking mechanism on them to keep them from trying to fold up into the storage configuration.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2010 at 12:04AM
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Californian, did you bury the long anchor prongs up to the first ring? I have never had to gice a Texas cage extra support and I never prune. My plants grow up to about 8 feet tall and then start growing back down. And they are in a windy area.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2010 at 6:59AM
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If you have a way to bend them, because they are thicker gauge wire, cattle panels are much stronger than most CRW. If used lengthwise they could also be made taller (as with CRW).

CRW can be purchased in heavier gauges. You'll have to contact a concrete supply/form company to find a source for those.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2010 at 9:45AM
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i am still very happy with the 6 foot bamboo rods im using (going on third year of use)

    Bookmark   August 10, 2010 at 3:40PM
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My aunt is using cattle panels (I think that's what they are called.) Basically a sheet of fencing that using thicker gauge metal...panels are tied to metal fence posts you can get at Tractor Supply Company..they guide the plants and weave them in and out.....very sturdy, and her plants look awesome.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2010 at 3:55PM
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I've done an experiment on this topic, simply because I want to use what works best given my conditions, what's easiest given my available time, etc.

I've tried all sorts of supports over the years, I took three 20 foot rows of tomatoes and did a different style of support on each row. One row was Florida Weave, one was using a more traditional staking method (only because I had no good cages, heh), and the last one was using the Texas Tomato Cages. For my purposes, the Texas Tomato cages won hands-down, with Florida Weave coming in second, and (no surprise here) staking coming in third.

The Texas Tomato cages required the least amount of work and the plants in them are fuller, look better overall and actually seem to be slightly more productive. The Florida Weave plants are close behind, doing well with fairly minimal maintenance, although they seem to be a little behind the caged plants. The staked plants are doing well in their own right, although they've grown so much that I can't keep up with them with all of the tying required, so some of the plants have broken branches from high winds - granted, I didn't prune really, which is generally required for staking, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.

Others may disagree, but I think there's a trend in what I'm seeing in my garden. The plants in the cages are the biggest and most productive, and I don't think it's a coincidence. The cages plants required the least amount of maintenance; and less maintenance means the plants are left to their own devices a little more. With both Florida Weave and Staking, I had to manhandle the plants a little more than I'd like. As careful as I was when tying them up, inevitably, some leaves would break off, a sucker would get snapped, or - even worse - a small green tomato would drop to the ground.

Another bonus that I found for the cages was that the plants were supported, but allowed to grow a little wider and more open than they were able to with the other methods. With Florida Weave, I found that my plants were basically squished back on themselves between the weave, which is intentional since that's how it holds them up, but it made for more crunched up looking plants. Also, with Florida Weave, if you don't tie them up tight enough or at small enough growth intervals, tomatoes can develop between the ties and slip out of the weave.

For me, even though they are expensive, I plan using the Texas Tomato Cages for all of my larger varieties. I plan on growing tomatoes as long as I land to grow them on  so if they last as people have mentioned theyÂll pay for themselves in the first couple years in time saved and productivity gains. The only thing IÂd recommend is buying the cage extension packs. I never thought IÂd need to use them, but I have Brandywine Sudduths topping out the cages and reaching 8ft  now with small tomatoes 7ft or more off the ground  and thereÂs still a good month or so of growing to do.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2010 at 3:36PM
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I love my Texas Cages. They are the only plants I don't have to tinker with a lot. Nice and full and no extra supports, but it wouldn't bother me to take one of the bamboo poles and give them a little extra. Hope to get another six for mother's day next year. I will get some extensions as well. The plants grew so tall this year.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2010 at 8:35AM
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korney19(z6a Buffalo, NY)

Here are Concrete Reinforcing Wire (CRW) cages, pens, and stalls, in standard, painted, and galvanized finishes...

The galvanized were purchased as 5ft by 10ft sheets. Cut a sheet in half and you can make 2 round cages nearly 18'' diameter.

Bend a sheet in two places and make TRIANGULAR cages--1 plant in each corner. Reduces the cost per plant $$. See the triangular cages in the first pic; they are free-standing and need no additional support or fastening to the ground.

Bend a sheet at the 3ft mark; bend a 2nd sheet at the 3ft mark. Set them opposing each other, like L-shapes. Connect the ends and you have a 3ft x 7ft free-standing caged ''pen''; I manage to squeeze as many as a dozen plants in it. Mine you can open at diagonal corners to get inside. You can add another 7ft length down the center to divide the pen into 2 rows. See the second pic.

Or take another sheet and stick it where you want it, then cut a sheet into 3 or 4 or 5 pieces and add the pieces perpendicular to the long sheet to form cubicles or ''stalls.'' See bottom right of top pic.

You can also take 3 sheets and make a double row, and cut another sheet into panels to connect and space the 3 sheets whatever distance apart you need; I used panels that made 18'' spacing between sheets because my raised beds are 3ft wide. See the first pic, between the blue tarp and the white round cages.

Some people cut the bottom ring off their round cages, to stick the verticals into the ground, but this shortens your cages by 6 inches. If you use 5ft tall sheets or rolls to make round cages, you can even extend them without wasting the bottoms. Just carefully cutting the bottoms at the proper places and bending the horizontal wire downward to a vertical position gives you up to a foot more height to reclaim!

Hope this helps.

P.S. As for finishes, after galvanized, the best paint I have found is a Rustoleum Hammer Finish, available in pints & quarts, that can be painted right over bare metal. I recommend the metallic dark green color, which blended in so well you can't make them out in the top pic, the bed to the right of the white plastic 55 gallon drum.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2010 at 4:47PM
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tomakers(SE MA Zone 5/6 or ?)

I have used CRW cages for about 30 yrs. (I still have some of the original ones and I have never painted them). They are very little trouble, put them on at planting and that's it. Once in a great while I have to stake a few, but I have found that one (6'wood)stake beside the cage and attached with plastic ties will hold them erect in almost any wind. It does take a little time to make them, but once you have done a few it is really no problem. I do have a pair of bolt cutters, but that is all you need for tools, other than a pair of gloves and long pants and shirt. I make mine in various sizes, but have just about decided to make most at 66" which gives about a 21" diameter. Cost is about 1/3 or less of the Texas Tomato Cages.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2010 at 8:08AM
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tomakers, have you considered the cost of the gasoline to go to the big box store and back to buy the CRW roll(s) and the time it took to buy and make the cages into your cost comparison? For some of us that is also a consideration. I also have both CRW and Texas. My CRW's are left outside all year. They are 15 years old now, never been painted and some of the lower rungs have rusted so badly they have broken off. I still use them though but must stake each of them heavily. The Texas will not rust, need no additional staking and outlast the CRW. Just some other factors I am pointing out...

    Bookmark   August 14, 2010 at 6:38PM
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tomakers(SE MA Zone 5/6 or ?)

The store where I bought the CRW is only about 2 miles from my house(local, not big box), and their price was BETTER ($113) than the big box($125). Once you have the bolt cutters (about $15) it only takes about 5 minutes to make a cage.
$128/30=$4.26+(whatever value you place on 5 minutes)$2.00+$.40 mileage=$6.66. And you only have to buy the bolt cutters the first time.
I must admit I have given away most of the older ones I had and made new ones.
I have NEVER had to stake with more than 2 6' wood stakes, and most years only have to stake 2 or 3 cages.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2010 at 6:04AM
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korney19(z6a Buffalo, NY)

I originally started out with plain CRW not galvanized, and when I bought mine at a local lumberyard a mile or two down the street, it was around $59 for 150ft roll! They had surface rust on them from day 1. Some I left for the patina, some I painted. Mine never get put away but stay out over the winter.

Even the galvanized versions were much cheaper than the Texas cages. I can make 2 per sheet, and including Truck Freight, they still came out around 1/3rd to 1/4th the cost of Texas cages!

Harbor Freight often has 18'' bolt cutters on sale for under $10, which can cut up to 3/8'' bolts I believe.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2010 at 11:46AM
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tomncath(St Pete Z10a Heat 10)

So, where's Nick? Ten days, no response? I could display two more options, one with Cattle Panel and the other with Raybo's Glamos cages bolted together with 1/8" wire rope clips....We all like our own way of doing things but who's this really for?

    Bookmark   August 18, 2010 at 12:45PM
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korney19(z6a Buffalo, NY)

That's usually why people stop going through all the trouble of posting pics and writing detailed, descriptive paragraphs!

    Bookmark   August 27, 2010 at 6:36PM
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I found this very interesting... and I love tomato cage battle... different ideas and options can help newbies develop or help an experienced grower solves a specific issue... PICS are awesome...

what do people do with a LONG lateral fruiting branch...? mine have grown out.. then when they weight up, they droop over the wire and sometimes tear.. bigger cage or...?

    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 2:24PM
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carol_the_dabbler(Z5/6 Indiana)

Don't fret about the missing Nick, tomncath -- four years later, this thread is still providing useful information to GardenWeb members. (And it's visible to Google, so I'll bet that a lot of non-members have benefited from it as well.)

Thanks, everybody!

    Bookmark   June 23, 2014 at 5:00PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I think this is a good thread and it shows diversity in supporting tomato plants.

I , for one,. use CAGE, Stake and WEAVE ( not necessarily FL).

I like cedar stakes. Just yesterday I bough 3pces of 2"x4" -12ft cedar board at 70% off, at HD. I cut them into 2pce, 6ft each then I rip the into 3 pces. Each 6ft stake cost 65 cents. I can even make cages with them but cages are hard to store off season. That is why i like stakes. I have considered using EMT and PVC, but so far cedar stakes have won the contest in my garden.

For some DETERMINANTS top notch 3-ring cages will suffice and they are convenient. But for INDETs, you will need CRW material that you can depend on.

So the bottomline is that there is no single right way. If you are busy, have job, family to take care, probably caging is the best trouble free option. But you want to do lollygagging in the garden ( have lots of free time) do staking, weaving, tying, more tying :-)

    Bookmark   June 24, 2014 at 8:40AM
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jtmacc99(z5/6 NY)

I went through the trouble of making CRW cages exactly as described above (including making them in three different diameters to make them stack better) about 8 years ago and still think this is one of the best gardening things I've done.

SO easy to use year after year. They require so little effort to grow tomatoes. I pretty much only need to occasionally point a branch back inside of them, and that's it for the growing season. No tying up anything. No nothing. Just walk around them and check to see what's ripe.

The only regret I ever have is not putting a posting up on Craigslist to offer to make more for other people.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2014 at 5:14PM
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carol_the_dabbler(Z5/6 Indiana)

Thanks for the encouragement, jtmacc99! We've bought the CRW mesh and are looking forward to making our cages. How much size difference do you have between your cages? And how easy/hard is it to get them nested for storage?

Fortunately, we thought to count the squares before we started cutting -- a 50' roll has 100 6" squares, right? Wrong! Our roll has only 97 squares, so now I need to recalculate how many cages of which size to make (but at least I'm not stuck with a too-small cage).

    Bookmark   June 24, 2014 at 7:21PM
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To anyone still checking in on this thread .. I initially was gonna go with the crw but wasn't to keen on being covered with rust every time I worked with the tomatoes (daily tinkering) .. My solution was livestock paneling - about 12.50 a cage but they're NO joke .. Tractor supply carries the panels, as well as agricultural type stores, agway etc..

Here is a link that might be useful: DIY tomato cages

    Bookmark   June 24, 2014 at 8:22PM
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