At the Rodale Organic Gardening Experimental Farm, and in the Rodale Garden Club, our tomato plants grow in heavy-duty wire cages that we’ve used for years. These square, vertical columns keep our tomatoes standing tall, even when wind whips through. We expect to get a few more decades of use out of our tomato cages—they’re that durable.
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What’s the secret of their strength and longevity? Our cages are constructed from livestock panels—rigid, 16-foot-long fence sections, made of heavy-gauge galvanized wire and sold at farm-supply stores. The panels are designed with different sizes of openings for various types of farm animals. For this project, we chose cattle panels that are 50 inches tall with openings 8 inches by 6 inches. Panels with wider-spaced wires cost less, are easier to work with, and it’s easier to pick ripe tomatoes through the larger openings.
16 foot panels, as described above
bolt cutters (and the strength to use them)
a wood plank, 2-by-6 or larger, and about 6-feet long
a 5/8-inch box wrench
another person to help
Each 16-foot panel makes two tomato cages with a small section left over. Use leftover panel pieces to construct compost bins or A-frame trellises, or mount a rectangle of wire grid on the garage wall and add hooks for hanging garden tools. Buy a few more panels, and you can also make our favorite arched vegetable trellis.
One disadvantage to this style of tomato cage: They don’t collapse or nest for storage. That’s no problem for gardeners who live in deer country, where the cages can be employed in winter to protect young trees and shrubs from browsing deer.