IT’S THE TIME OF YEAR WHEN I DRAG OUT THE TOMATO CAGES and set them into the ground where my new transplants are settling in—an exercise that used to involve disentangling a mess of inadequate but space-hogging devices that took up half the garage. Not the last few years; not since my Texas tomato cages arrived.
You may recall I posted about these collapsible, heavy-duty, supersized strokes of genius a few springs ago, when I started A Way to Garden. Since then, I see Texas Tomato Cages have become more widely available…but just in case you missed the news, a little reminder. They come in two diameters, and with or without second-story extensions that can have them tower as high as 6 feet. (And no, I don’t get a commission; I don’t even know the manufacturers. I’m just a satisfied customer.)
Those are some of the 24-inch wide lower halves set into place (photo above), with one of the (folded flat) tops leaned beside the bed; below are five tops piled together awaiting action, so you can get the idea of what I mean by “folds flat.” Once you put the top portion on, the cage is above eye level, by the way; I don’t leave them like this, with the wire tube that receives the top half exposed (except for the purpose of showing you how they work in the photo).
Hand those undersized things you’ve been using down to your peppers and eggplants, and think big and strong, like they do in Texas. You can also fashion similarly tough supports from concrete-reinforcing wire, but they won’t collapse neatly for winter storage.
Alternatives: Stake or trellis your tomatoes (the pros and cons of which I discuss in this post from the archive). Whatever you do, get your tomatoes up off the ground for their health, and for better yields. Don’t believe me? Scroll down on this page to Oklahoma State’s chart comparing tomato training systems, and then also see what the University of New Hampshire has to say on the matter.
And remember, when Lycopersicon esculentum is the topic, you can also browse through everything I know about tomatoes here. How about them you-know-whats?
Those rods sticking up look treacherous to me. It’s too bad there isn’t a ring at the top to keep you from poking your eye out when reaching in to look at the tomatoes.
I love the idea of being able to fold them up, and that design is clever. However, since it would cost me about $200 to replace my concrete enforcing wire cages, I think I’ll have to continue to put up with the hassle of storing them through the winter.
Welcome, Chris. The top portions (that are leaning flat against the raised beds) go in those holes, and then the whole thing is above eye level. I should have been clear; I just wanted to show the two part construction etc., and how they fold. Once the top halves are on, no worry.
Good that you have concrete reinforcing wire ones — at least that’s a really solid material. Those tiny welded wire cages are useless.
Thanks for alerting me to my omission in the story; I clarified it, and I appreciate your quick and smart help.
I have been using the square collapsible ones Menard’s sells. So far, so good, but I expect the welds to give out eventually. I will keep in mind your Texas ones when I start replacing them.
@Abby: The Texas ones (though expensive) are made without welds, which earned them a patent (and means they don’t fall apart). I was hesitant about the money at first, but then I succumbed and am glad I did.
These are cool. I have foldable square ones I got from Burpee. I’ve started using them for my peppers and such as well. If I need more cages, my tomatoes may get an upgrade to these cages. Thanks for explaining the “system.”
I ALMOST had Texas tomato cages. Actually, we did purchase them only to find out they did not fit in the car — no way, no how, and I really wanted them! Luckily the nice people at White Flower Farm gave us a full refund. Sigh…..
Maybe next year I’ll convince my cheap self to pay the shipping costs.
After the blight last year I crunched up my old rusty space-hogging reinforcing wire cages that I had time-consumingly straightened out in spring. It felt good, stepping on them. I took out all my blight frustration on them. Off they went to the metal recyclers with the promise of Texas cages this spring.
They’re beautiful and so easy to unfold and put together. Yes, they cost a pretty penny but they were delivered right to my door. (Big box and heavy… took about a week to arrive after ordering.) I love that I won’t have to figure out where to store them over the winter… they’ll fit in a corner in the garage.
Thanks Margaret for turning me on to them!
Two thank yous- first for the fabulous texas tomato cages. I just received my first dozen and they are so gorgeous and so superior to anything I have, I am ordering a dozen more. And second, I just got back from the benefit for Great Dixter and it was fabulous! The two gardens featured were completely different and yet worked beautifully together. Although I have a weekend home in Rhode Island, I would have missed it if you hadn’t brought my attention to it. Thank you Margaret!
My sixty concrete wire tomato cages store just fine in the garden. The snow doesn’t hurt them a bit and they give the empty winter garden some interesting “structure.”
Welcome, JR. SIXTY? Now that’s not a vegetable garden, it’s a tomato farm. Impressive! My winter “sunset” view is right across the vegetable beds, once the leaves between here and there and beyond it fall, so I like everything out of there to enhance it come season’s end. But I bet your setup looks pretty amazing after a snowfall. See you soon again, I hope.
@Laura: I am so glad you enjoyed the event in RI (I love John and Mikel!). And I am also happy to hear about your cages arriving. An investment to be sure, but one I haven’t regretted. See you soon!
Anyone use them for clematis?
Margaret – I want these cages SO bad! One year I’m going to save up for these. Right now, they’re a little costly for my budget. But, I love that they collapse. I love that they have extenders. I love that they’re round!
I’m trying the florida weave method for the first time this year. I like it so far. But then again, my plants are not even 2 feet tall yet so I’d probably like ANY method at this size.
We use the Florida Weave method for the 200 plants we have at the Food Bank Community Garden. It works great for a large planting as you use half the stakes as regularly and it definitely keeps the tomatoes off the ground. At the end of the season you can simply store the stakes and use them again. We usually make three levels of string.
My friend uses panels of concrete reinforcing wire for her tomato row. With rebar posts, she secures one behind the row and one in front of the row. Then, as the tomatoes grow, she slides wooden lathe sticks from the front panel to the back panel tenderly supporting the new branches of the plant . No tying, so it is quite gentle to the plant.
While I am sure that my alma mater, the University of Oklahoma, would love to take credit for the great tomato support chart, the research and chart were a product of Oklahoma State University, formerly the Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical college. As a member of Oklahoma County Master Gardeners, an entity supported by OSU, my loyalties are often torn. However OU is not so much into tomato support or research.
Welcome, Jackie, and what a gross error on my part. Fixed in a flash!
I have used Texas Tomato Cages for a few years now and love them. This year I found out that putting them on the perimeter of my garden keeps the deer out. I think because they are tall, the deer don’t want to walk in between them. This is the first year I have done that and my sunflowers have not been “nipped in the bud” for the first time. I also take the plastic deer fencing, wrap the cages and let gourds and cucumbers climb up them. They make nice vertical gardens. Well worth the money!
Margaret, Thanks for another great tip. I too will save my pennies for these cages.
I read your last Texas tomato cage post and promplty asked for them for Christmas from my inlaws. They are in place in the garden awaiting the teeny tomato plants to get growing! I think this Christmas I may ask for 6 more.
Very interesting. My tomatoes always grow so tall (since I prune to one stem) they never fit it normal cages. I’ve been using 6 ft oak stakes for 2 years now and I love them!
I too like to grow tomatoes using unbent simple 4×8 ft concrete-slab grids supported by either rebar or wood stakes woven through. This will do nicely for indeterminate tomatoes to 8 ft. Used flat in rows, they conserve space — the fruit espaliers itself quite naturally — maxing sun and air-circulation for disease free plants, easy to tend. These wire trellises, though rust-prone, are cheap and store flat. Left out for winter, they look nice too. Home Depot sells them for, what, $9 or so.
Oh my gosh, I thought the 2 parts you displayed were the cage and the extension. I purchased 6 cages and 6 extensions….it is your 2 parts PLUS another 2 feet! Here’s hoping those indeterminate tomatoes really do want to to THAT high.
I just sold my Burpee XL tomato cages because I purchased the Texas tomato cages. I was sick of my cages taking up so much room and getting tangled on everything. They look awesome, I can’t wait to use them this year. The price was hard to swallow and kept me away for years.