How to Make Strong, Flat Folding, Tomato Cages!

I started out, like everyone else, with tomato cages that were too small, made out of weak wire, that bent over time and never seem to hold in half of a fully grown tomato. Then halfway though the season it would fall over. A friend taught me about concrete reinforcing wire and how you can make a circle cages out of them. Made some right away! After a few years of using these I had a few problems with them:

When I forgot to put the cages around the tomato’s when they were small, I lost a lot leaves, flowers and branches, tying to put the cage around the plant.

  • In the “off” season the circle cages took up WAY to much space.
  • The circle design couldn’t handle the high winds we sometimes get. Once they were fully grown tomato’s the wind would knock some over, we had more then a few Leaning Towers of Pre-Pizza (tomato’s).
  • They were just not big enough around for our larger tomato’s (making the circle any larger then we had it took up way to much space in the off season).
  • The small diameter also crowed the tomatoes too much, causing disease because there was not enough airflow.

We came up with a better method that seemed to not have any of the above problems. Needless to say we got rid of all our huge circle cages. There’s many advantages to these new cages we came up with.

  • Versatility – If you just can’t bear the thought of loosing any of that lush growth, all because you forgot to put your cage up in time, your in luck, because with this design you can build the cage around the tomato!
  • Storage – Flat Storage, at the end of the season the cages store flat.
  • Weather – Wind is not an issue. Due to the structures shape, you can stack them two high (with stakes and zip tying them together), and not worry about them falling over.
  • Disease – With a larger inside space of the cage there’s enough air flow and room to keep the plants very happy and healthy.
  • The shape makes it easier to put many more tomato’s cages together in a smaller area maximizing growing space.
  • No need to own a truck the panels will fit nicely into, most, car trunks.

Trunk

  • One person set up.

I thought this would make an excellent start to my blog so here it is. I’m new at this so, please let me know if I left anything out, you want more photo’s, or would like clarification. The photo’s I took for this post got deleted by mistake so I had to use the photo’s from my container tomato instead.

In this example we will be doing a single layer cage for tomato’s planted in the ground or raised bed.

Materials needed:

  • 2 sheets of concrete reinforcing wire. (14 squares by 7 squares = 14X7; each square is 6”x6”)
  • 1 sheet of concrete reinforcing wire can be cut into
  • 3 sections of 3 squares across by 7 squares down (3X7; 18” X 42”)
  • 1 of a 2 ½ squares across by 7 squares down ( 2 ½X7; good for making fences around beds)
  • 1 – 50 Pack of 8” nylon cable ties or as I call them “zip ties”. Make sure they are outdoor UV resistant, (they are usually black).
  • 2 – Long stakes 6 or 8 foot (use the taller one if your stacking two cages), heavy duty stakes they have no measurement for thickness, that I could find so I define them as: Try to bend it with a little force, if it gives, then it’s too thin. The thickest one’s I’ve seen are around ½” thick (which is probably overkill).

Tool’s needed:

  • Bolt cutters (No need to buy them, just find or ask for them in the store, cut the wire into panels as indicated above, return cutters.)
  • Gloves (wear when handling metal)
  • Safety glasses (always wear while cutting the metal)

Instructions:

  1. Print out worksheet below or make a grid of 14 by 7 squares. Then mark out where you’ll be cutting to make a 3 square by 3 square (18” X18”) cage. This size is good for a heirloom determinant or indeterminate tomato. This grid will make it easier to see where you need to cut the wire, once your at the store.                                       Concrete Reinforcing Wire
  2. Start by laying your wire flat on the ground and cutting off the excess wire sticking out on the short sides, leave the wire sticking out on the top and the bottom.
  3. Double check your grid worksheet, to make sure your cutting the right row.
  4. Open the bolt cutters, put wire inside, then side the bolt cutter all the way over to one side of the square you’ll be cutting and cut. Note: The cuts will be made with two hands and it will take a bit of force, but I think any woman who gardens will be strong enough to cut it.                                                                                                                  Clipping
  5. Continue cutting up the same place all the way up the wire panel until it comes off.One Side Clipped
  6. Once you make your first panel you will then need to take off the excess wire sticking out. Which will leave you with a bunch of little metal pieces to pick up. Note: don’t cut to fast or they will shoot across the floor.Part Clip                  Wire Parts
  7. Then cut out the rest of the panels as noted in the worksheet. Make sure to leave the last panel (the 2 ½X7) with the wire sticking out so you can use it for fencing in your beds (see below). 
  8.  Now you’re ready to build your cage, which will be a square box shape, and do one of two following things:Put the cage together and put it over your small tomato.Or, If your like me, you might have put off buying or putting up your cages and they’ve grown up a bit, so you’ll be making the cages around the tomatoes themselves.
  9.  Stick the wire panel into the ground, with the longer metal at the bottom.                                                   1st pannel
  10.  Then add the second next panel, square to the first one (a 90° angle). Place a zip ties loosely around the two pieces at the corner with one at the: top, middle and bottom.                                                                             2nd Pannel
  11. Add the third panel and zip tie it too the second one.                                                                          3rd Pannel
  12. Add the forth panel and zip tie it too the first and third panels, completing your square.                          In Ground
  13. Now put it over your tomato (if your not building it around the tomato) Once your cage is in place it’s time to tighten up the zip ties by pulling on them (Note: they fold, at the end of the season just fine, no matter how tight you tighten them). Zip Tie
  14. Next it’s time to stake up your cage. Put the stakes outside the cage on opposite sides of the cage. Push them down around a foot into the ground. This will leave them sticking out over the tops of the cages themselves perfect for adding another cage on top of it.                                                                                                                                                                                                 Staked
  15. After that you’ll zip tie the stakes to the cages at the top and bottom.                                          Stake Zipped
  16. If you’d like to add a second cage on top of this one, just make it up as instructed above. Then put it on top of the bottom cage so the corners align. Attach the two cages together by tops and bottoms by loosely zip tying them, then tighten them up. Add zip ties to the top cage attaching it to the stakes as well. Determinant tomatoes are usually fine with a single cage, indeterminate work better with two stacked.                                                                                          Cut Zip

Notes:

  • This design is not recommended for anyone with young children as the metal can be sticking out which could lead to a cut or accidents if not proper attention is paid. Alternative is you can use this design if you put a coating on the edges of the wire.
  • The concrete reinforcing wire is most times in the wood/concrete/ building material area of the store. Usually only big box hardware store carry them.
  • Bolt cutters should cost you around $20.00. It’s a good investment if you need to build more then one of these or if you change your mind about size when you get home or if you want to make something with the scraps left over.

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