A gardener’s dilemma: tomatoes need to be staked, but wire tomato cages are ugly and flimsy in my experience. And at the end of the season I always had to untangle the plant from the support, which I found annoying.
Tomatoes aren’t climbing vines and don’t twist around their supports – they need a little help or they flop over. And you never want your tomatoes to lay on the ground – though not many bugs eat tomato plants, many creatures will eat tomatoes, including snails, mice, rats, rabbits.
So what are the options? For the do-it-yourself-er, the options are endless – make them out of wood, bamboo or PVC. Squares and triangles are easiest to design and construct.
There are two varieties of tomatoes: indeterminate and determinate. Always labeled on the seed packet, but make sure you know which one you have if you get a plant at a nursery or through a friend. Determinate are smaller, bush varieties that don’t require as sturdy a cage or stake – this type will do fine with the commercial wire cages.
INdeterminate varieties grow as big as they can. I’ve had nine foot tall tomato plants when all
the conditions (soil, temperature, sun hours, water) combined perfectly. Those plants do not do well with wire cages. And those are the tomatoes I aspire to grow every year. The coveted beefsteak tomatoes only grow on indeterminate plants.
Typical designs are pyramidical or square. I’ve also seen ladder stakes with just two sides joined at the top – if you add hinges, they store fairly well.
An old-school type of tomato cage is four stakes connected by rope instead of wood – this works, but please use a natural rope secured at each stake by twine so it cuts down on the ugly factor.
By far my favorite is the tomato spiral. This European method is a single tall sturdy spiral stake stuck in the ground near the root. As the tomato grows, simply wind the center stalk around the spiral – it holds amazingly well and looks elegant, with easy access to tomatoes and easy removal and storage at the end of the season.
If you’ve read any posts here before, you know that easy is always our favorite.
May you have a bumper crop of tomatoes this season –