And now, a word about Tomato Cages!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I never thought it would be this exciting to write about tomato cages. What has my life come too? Yes, I know, stop thinking -- start writing...

I wish I could take credit for the cage design located to the immediate right, but that wouldn't be fair. This ingenious little cage design sprang from the mind of a software engineer who lives in Southern California. His name is Thomas Matkey, and his cage design is legendary stuff.

I first ran into Tom as I was scrolling through posts on the TomatoVille website. I saw several pictures of his cages posted on this forum, and just happened to run across them following a weekend where I used miles of twine in an attempt to prop up those dinky wire cages that were collapsing under the weight of a terrific tomato crop.

As they used to say in my old radio career, "nothing is original anymore, so steal the best ideas and make them your own." And that's what I did, with permission from Tom of course. And he was more than happy to share his design. It's even posted up on a website, which I've

linked to below. With most cage designs, there are good things and bad things. The good: this cage will never, EVER collapse. The bad: it does take some time to set up.

Tom shares the same disdain for the standard wire cage that I do. You can depend on standard wire cages to fail at the exact moment when you absolutely need them the most, and that failure can ruin a tomato crop that you've spent months growing. In Tom's words, "wire cages have the structural integrity of a slinky." I couldn't agree with him more. It was only after he'd lost a few crops, or had to prop up wire cages with various pieces of PVC pipe he had laying around in the yard, did he come up with his PVC Cage design.

Here's an example of Tom's design to the left. Notice all the tomatoes on that one single plant? Yeah, so did I. Not only did I envy his cage design, the amount of production Tom squeezes out of each plant makes me positively ILL. I believe that's a shot of Tom's Tigerella plant from two years ago. Then, to make matters even worse, Tom sends me photos of his ripened crop after harvest. But I'll get him this year.... I have a bigger backyard than he does now ;)

The cages are fairly simple to build, but as I noted above, they do take time. The advantage of each cage is, once you've cut the proper length of pipe, you can use them again and again and again, year after year after year. If you ever played with Tinker Toys as a kid, you'll love this. Think of it as a grown man's Tinker Toy Project.

The cages use standard, three-quarter inch, Schedule 40 PVC pipe. You will also need a collection of PVC elbows, connectors, cross connectors and T-Connectors. You should also purchase a PVC cutter if you don't already have one, because using a hacksaw to cut the pipes will be a huge time expense.

My design differs from Tom somewhat, due to space concerns and the size of our tomato beds. To put it short and sweet, it really doesn't matter how long the pipes are. You can customize it to fit any size backyard, big or small.

And this, boys and girls, is the end-of-summer payoff. This is how my garden looked late last summer, and although you can't actually see them, these plants are loaded with tomatoes. You might even spot the green garden "stretchy" tape in each photo. That tape is used to train the plants to grow up through the PVC cages. Once the plants have grown out the top, it's perfectly fine to let them fall and drape over and start growing in different directions. This cage WILL NOT FAIL -- ever.

More pictures of the cages, both mine and Tom's, are located below. Sacramento Bee Garden Editor Pat Rubin also did a story on various tomato cage designs, including this one, which you can read here.

Finally, you can access the "how to build" instructions here.

Happy Gardening!!!


Chuck & Shirley Bartok said...

Holly Molley! Hi Neighbor! I thought my old Fashioned Commercial methods were good.
This is Outstanding.
I love to broadcast also.

Check out the Video series either Yahoo Video or You Tube

Yahoo Video


Bill Bird said...

Nah, I'm just nuts Chuck. That's all. Just nuts for tomatoes.

Bill Bird said...

Normally -- I don't allow any advertising whatsoever on the blog. But since this really isn't spam -- and you're not pushing Viagra -- while I probably shouldn't do it -- I'm going to leave it up. I will make the statement that I'm not getting paid one penny for this -- nor am I receiving free deliveries of PVC pipe -- nor will I accept any gifts because of my work on this blog. Thems the rules people. I didn't make them. I just follow them.