How To Build The Ultimate Super-Sturdy Tomato Cage

This project makes frames strong enough to stand up to summer storms while holding giant heirloom tomatoes.

June 9, 2017

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.

(On just a quarter-acre of land, you can produce fresh, organic food for a family of four—year-round. Rodale's The Backyard Homestead shows you how; get your copy today.)

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.

You'll Need

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.

measuring and cutting panels
Toby Maynard
Cutting The Panels

Using a bolt cutter, cut a section of panel 6 1⁄2 feet long, leaving the horizontal wire stubs along the cut edge.

If you have the means to transport 16-foot long fence sections, this step can be completed at home near where you plan on using the cages. However, if you're using a pickup truck to transport the panels home, don't be afraid to cut the panels to size in the parking lot of the store where you made the purchase.

Related: How To Grow 90 Pounds Of Tomatoes From Only 5 Plants

making tomato cages
Toby Maynard
Bending The Panels Into Cages

Lay one cut section on the ground. Measure and mark a line 18 inches from the side of the panel without wire stubs; this is where you’ll make the first bend. Place the plank so its edge aligns with the marks. With two people standing on the plank, bend the panel upward to make a 90-degree angle.

Repeat the measuring and bending twice more. After the third bend, the two panel sides will meet.

Related: The 4 Best Ways To Support Your Tomatoes

building tomato cages
Toby Maynard
Securing The Cage With Wire Stubs

To connect the two sides, slip the ring end of the box wrench over a wire stub; bend the stub until it loops around the vertical wire of the other panel side. Repeat with the remaining wire stubs. Cut the stubs with the bolt cutter, taking care to leave no sharp points protruding.

building tomato cages
Toby Maynard
Cutting Bottom Wires (OPTIONAL)

Cut off the horizontal wire at the base of the cage, leaving vertical wire ends to help stabilize the cage in the ground.

If you're exhausted by this step, and just want to set the cages on top of some tomato plants, you can do that, as the cages are heavy enough to not move around much throughout the growing season. However, this step will allow you to dig your cages into the ground as an extra measure of security.

If you live where the wind is exceptionally fierce, you might want to reinforce each cage with a length of rebar pounded 18 inches into the ground and tied to the cage.