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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Everything’s Bigger in Texas including Tomato Cages

You really should have planted your tomatoes over a month ago if you live in the Houston area. But if you didn’t, then buy the biggest tomato plants you can find.

Did you know that you can plant a tomato deeper than it is in its original pot? Take the lower leaves off of the tomato and plant it deep. The main stem will grow roots and will create a stronger plant.

Everyone has their own prescription for growing good tomatoes. I grow tomatoes in a raised bed and amend my soil every year with Black Cow Cow Manure and Natures Way Compost (or my own if I have enough). That’s about all I do and I have more than enough tomato production. Last year I added some cottonseed meal about halfway through the summer and it was the first time I had plants make it to the fall and produce (could have been a fluke, but it was fun).

Now, on to the discussion about tomato cages. I have found that my vegetable gardens produce better, the older they are. The first couple of years did not produce as many tomatoes or as tall of plants as later years. So, if your beds are like mine, you can get away with the largest of the cheap cages at the big box stores in the beginning. But, as your beds get more fertile over time, you will need a Texas-size tomato cage.

First, let’s look at what tomato cages are not.

tomato cageThese are the small conical shape cages. In my opinion these are not good for much. I have a few that I picked up along the street before heavy trash day that I use as a barrier to my dogs stepping on newly planted flowers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

tomato cageThese are the small-medium sized ones. Still not big enough, not to mention the insane color. I have used a size a little bit bigger than these for pepper plants. They work pretty good even though my plants tend to get tall and start to droop down the outside and all over their neighbors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

tomato cage

These are labeled as a “tomato trellis”. I bought some of these several years ago, again for peppers, they work ok, but I like the larger conical ones better. Most of mine have fallen apart by now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, on to what a tomato cage is…Sturdy and Tall

tomato cageI really like these cages that I bought from gardeners.com. (This is not a paid endorsement). I have both the Tomato Towers and the regular Tomato Cages. I prefer the regular tomato cages because they are taller when you stack them on top of each other (about 64” vs. 56” for the shorter ones). I have mine attached to each other with twist ties. Another advantage of these cages is that they are collapsible (if that is important to you)

This picture was taken about 3 years ago. I am 5’ 7” to give you a sense of scale. The middle tomato plant is a sweet million and is probably a foot taller than the tomato cage.

IMG_2339I was at a local garden supply store and found this interesting cage. I thought it was similar to the “Texas Tomato Cage” I had read about, so I thought I would give it a try. Since then, I have realized that it is not similar and not that great. It is collapsible, but is really hard to balance all the rings and get it in the ground by yourself. I only use it as a last resort now. I don’t have any experience with the true Texas Tomato Cage, but they have good reviews online.

 

 

 

IMG_2337My newest cages are courtesy of the local community garden. They bought several 100’ rolls of galvanized 5’ tall fence material with 6”x6” openings and were kind enough to let me purchase 24’ of it. I do wish it was a little bit taller, but that is just me being greedy. You will need bolt cutters for this project. Each of these cages are 6’ of fencing. Fold the cage material into a cylinder and bend the cut ends over the other side. Then cut off the bottom ring to create the stakes to hold it in the ground. IMG_2338

Another option is to use fencing material from the big box store. My Dad did this, his cages are 10 years old and have withstood hurricane force winds. They do rust, just consider it a little extra iron for your soil.

Besides the two online stores I mentioned, I have seen nice tomato cages at Wabash as well. I think I may have also spotted some when I was picking up my compost at Nature’s Way Resources last month. Make sure you give either place a call before you make the trip to be sure they have some in stock.

8 comments:

  1. Like your new tomato cages! They do look sturdy! I have the cone ones in the first picture - I'm a tomato plant wimp, I guess. Had to laugh at the colored ones! I have not seen any like that.

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  2. A great post about the benefits, or weaknesses, of different tomato cages. The colored ones were pretty funny. I am about to plant tomato seeds.

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  3. Thanks for the info on tomato cages. I'm trying to track some down today. I was going to get the short ones... but holy moly the fence material ones are pretty inspiring! Thanks for sharing, I think I have a new weekend project now.

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  4. holy crap! that's awesome! I need some of those!

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  5. how often do I feed my tom plants I have 1 green tom already
    and how often do i water they are in large pots in a good sun place

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    1. Anonymous,
      I am guessing you are somewhere in the south if you already have a tomato hanging on the vine. When it starts getting really hot, you will probably have to water your plants every day or two since they are in pots. In terms of feeding them, I fertilize with cottonseed meal when I plant my tomatoes and I usually (but not always) amend my soil with some Black Cow cow manure. Don't fertilize the plants again until after they start fruiting, then you can give them another balanced fertilizer, like more cottonseed meal. My raised beds have very high quality soil, so I don't feel like I need to feed them any more than that.

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  6. I must post my success...has taken me almost 7 years to learn to grow tomatoes in Houston (used to CT weather!). This year I can't give them away fast enough even with the birds taking some bites. Switched from raised bed to Grow Bags...love them...seems to both keep the plants from drying out too fast (like clay pots) while also great drainage/air movement so no rot. Nice wide bottoms so plenty of room for the roots. Started my plants the end of December so could have good sized plants outside by March and so got several weeks of cool evenings...essential for the flowers to set. Did throw some bird netting over them once the tomatoes started to ripen but the birds and squirrels can still reach through and snack on some of the outer ones...birds seem to especially like the cherry tomatoes. My Early Girl, Big Boy and Celebrity are doing the best. Early Girl was true to name, ripening a good 2-3 weeks before the others. Do strongly suggest plucking them before fully red...just too tempting to other critters and will finish ripening in a couple of days inside.

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  7. I actually bought those colored tomato cages and for the first time I was able to use a cage for a second year. They held up better than any I tried before. Sure, the color is bright but I just embraced it and went down the garden path. Just found your blog this morning. Love it! - Thanks

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