Tomato Supports

I’m using two different systems of supporting tomatoes here this year. For the majority of the plants I’m using cages I made from 5ft tall concrete reinforcing wire. The cages are all either 22 or 24 inches diameter (72 inch or 78 inch circumference). The cost per cage in 2008 was about $5, and they should easily last 10 years or more.

The openings in these cages are 6 inches square, which makes it very easy to get even the biggest tomatoes out. Also, you can use any opening to get your hand/arm into the interior, which comes in handy for small fruited varieties like this Sun Gold that will have tomatoes everywhere.

In the photo below there are two cages shown, with Sweet Baby Girl on the left and Sun Gold on the right. They are growing out the top of the cages, and it is time to prune the ends of the vines. That is the only pruning I do on the caged tomatoes. Every few days I work the vines to make sure they are staying inside the cages. If a shoot escapes I try and work it back into the cage without breaking it. If I can’t, I pinch it off.

For me, growing them in cages is the easiest method I have found. The yields can be very high, and the fruits are protected from sunscald and cracking. However, the tomatoes will be somewhat later to ripen when grown this way, plus there is the need to store the cages somewhere. I usually just leave them in the garden spot all year. But it’s not good to use these cages on short determinate varieties, since they tend to not be supported very well and end up mostly on the ground. That led me to explore other training methods.

The other method I’m using this year is the stake and weave system. I’m using this on 7 paste tomato plants. These are a mix of both indeterminate growers like Big Mama, Amish Paste and San Marzano and determinate varieties like Health Kick and Viva Italia.

I’ve got three metal t-posts sunk in the ground at 8 foot intervals to hold the vines. Between the metal posts I have two 5/8″ diameter bamboo stakes. I’ve run plastic baler twine down the row three times so far, with the first run about 8-10 inches from the ground and the others about 6 inches apart.  The bamboo stake isn’t supporting much weight, and the twine doesn’t grip it very well, but it’s what I had available. Wooden stakes or even lengths of concrete rebar driven into the ground are good choices for this method. I’ll probably buy a few pieces of rebar for next year.

This system results in earlier fruit, but sunscald can be a problem. Also, it will be difficult to remove the metal posts at the end of the season. I rotate the crops in the vegetable garden, so I can’t just leave it in place.

So, the jury is still out on how successful this system will be when all factors are taken into consideration. I’ve never really liked tying tomato vines to individual stakes, so the stake and weave method is an interesting alternative. We used this method successfully at our MG vegetable garden last year where it was used to support about half the tomatoes (the other half being caged). The proof is in the pudding as the saying goes, or in this case it will be in the tomato sauce!

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9 Responses to Tomato Supports

  1. We use the concrete fabric as well. We don’t cut our sheets though, so the are bigger. This way we can fit 2-3 plants in each one, reducing cost even more. We store them flat during the winter but untying the baling wire.

    • Villager says:

      I have a friend that makes them big like that also. He usually puts two plants in each cage. I bought the wire in a 100ft roll and cut it to size.

  2. meemsnyc says:

    We started out using stakes and twine for our tomato plants. But the plants got so large and the twine started to droop so we bought store cages instead.

  3. We make our own cages with the reinforcing wire too, about the same dimension as yours. So far they’re working great, and it’s a very efficient method to use in our raised box system. Like you, we’re rotating crops, so didn’t want to set up anything too ‘permanent’. However, I was curious to see how the stake and weave system works out. Thanks for posting a progress report. I get the impression that it requires a little more attention to the plants in that you have to run more ‘weave’ as the plants become taller?

    • Villager says:

      Yes, I’ve been running more twine every 7-10 days. It doesn’t take very long to do though, at least not for our 7 plants.

  4. Meredith says:

    I’ll be interested to see how your new system performs by the end of the season, Villager. When you trim the stem ends, are you cutting off the end of the season fruiting? For some reason, I thought the latest fruits always came at the top of the vine and it was essential to keep that shoot going if possible. I’m for any tips and tricks that will help me keep the plants shorter than 12 feet by August, though. 😉

    • Villager says:

      Meredith, when you trim the ends on an indeterminate variety you will be sacrificing some fruits on the stem you prune. However, it usually stimulates more suckers to grow from lower on the plant. I’m going to trim our two cherry tomato plants because they’re 7ft long in June and threatening to take over some of the more mild-mannered slicing tomatoes nearby. We’ll have a million cherry tomatoes anyway, even after pruning. 🙂

      Also, I let any determinate varieties just do their thing.

  5. Angela says:

    I still have not staked all my tomatoes and was thinking of making cages for the ones I still have to support. Never tried them before, so I have a question for you? Do you have lots of hornworms? If so, can you find them and picked them in caged tomato?

    Any staking method I use need to allow me to hunt for hornworms or they will decimate my plants 🙂

    • Villager says:

      Hornworms are not usually a big problem for us here, but I’ve never had a problem finding them in caged tomatoes. If I see the damage and can’t find the worm I just spray with some water. That makes them move every time!

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