Build your own tomato cages

Cecil Whig - - JUMPSTART -

Hi Ken, I am con­fi­dent that if any­one can an­swer my ques­tion, it is you.

I am tired of spend­ing good money ev­ery year or two on tomato cages. Ei­ther they rust and fall apart, or the joints break where they are welded. On one oc­ca­sion, by the time I re­turned home from buy­ing them, one broke when I re­moved it from the car. Another is­sue I have with them is they are made so cheaply that they fall over when the plants get large.

Do you know where I can pur­chase tomato cages that are sturdy and built to last? Frus­trated in Ris­ing Sun Hi Frus­trated, I can to­tally sym­pa­thize with you, as I also grew tired of hav­ing to re­place my plant cages ev­ery cou­ple of years. If you take a close look at the welded junc­tions on the cages (and I use the term “welded” lightly), you will no­tice that the amount of sol­der used to se­cure them is at best in­ad­e­quate. Like ev­ery­thing else we pur­chase these days, plant cages are built to fail to keep us buy­ing them ev­ery cou­ple of years.

As you are most likely aware, there are a va­ri­ety of plant cages on the mar­ket. If the prices were as cheap as the con­struc­tion, it would not sting as bad. I have seen some sell for as much as $16 each, and they are as cheaply made as their $5 coun­ter­parts. My an­swer to your ques­tion is no – I do not know where to buy high qual­ity plant cages that are built to last and give you your money’s worth.

How­ever, I do have a so­lu­tion for you.

A cou­ple of years ago, I fi­nally had it, so I set out to con­struct my own. Mak­ing your own plant cages takes a lit­tle ef­fort, but in the long run, you will save a lot of time and money.

Tools and sup­plies you will need: • Heavy gauge wire used as a struc­tural sup­port for newly poured ce­ment • 1/2-inch metal elec­tri

cal tub­ing • Plas­tic ca­ble ties • Tape mea­sure • Work gloves • Scis­sors • Hack­saw • Ham­mer The first step is to de­ter­mine how many cages you will need. The num­ber of cages you need will dic­tate how to pur­chase the wire. The most eco­nom­i­cal way is to buy a 150-by-5-foot roll, which will cost you $100, and will yield 30 cages. Most folks do not need that many cages, so you may want to speak with your gar­den­ing friends about split­ting the cost.

If you are un­able to find friends or neigh­bors who are in­ter­ested in build­ing their own cages, and you do not need 30 of them, you do have an al­ter­na­tive. You can pur­chase 5-by-10-foot sheets of the heavy gauge wire for $8 each.

You will want to start by mea­sur­ing and cut­ting the wire into 5-foot sec­tions with a hack­saw. The wire is quite thick and sturdy, so if you have an elec­tric metal cut­off saw, use it in­stead of the hack­saw. Af­ter you cut the wire, roll it into a round and ver­ti­cal cage, and se­cure it along the seam with the plas­tic ca­ble ties to main­tain the cylin­dri­cal shape. Snip off the ends of the ca­ble ties with the scis­sors.

These cages dif­fer from most be­cause the ma­jor­ity of the store-bought cages are round at the top and ta­per off at the bot­tom form­ing a cone shape. Your home­made cages will be equally as round at the bot­tom as they are at the top. Place the cages over the plants, and se­cure them by snaking the 1/2-inchby-5-foot piece of metal tub­ing down through the wire squares, ham­mer­ing them into the ground about 18 inches deep. I use two pieces of tub­ing placed on ei­ther side of the cage. The metal tub­ing can be pur­chased in pieces at any home im­prove­ment store for about $2. It is cheaper to buy the 10-foot sec­tions and cut them to size, but for the amount of ef­fort in­volved, it is just as in­ex­pen­sive to pur­chase them al­ready cut into 5-foot pieces.

Your new cages will be sturdy and last for many years to come. Keep in mind that some of welds will even­tu­ally break, but can be eas­ily re­paired with the use of the plas­tic ca­ble ties, de­pend­ing on where they break. In ad­di­tion, the cages will rust over time, but be­cause of the thick­ness of the wire, it will take many years be­fore the in­tegrity of the cages is com­pro­mised.

Be sure to wear your work gloves to avoid in­juries. The bot­tom line is: If you use the sec­tions, the ap­prox­i­mate cost of each cage is $7, and will still be stand­ing af­ter the pur­chased cages have been re­cy­cled.

If you choose to pur­chase the roll of wire, your cost drops to about $6 a cage, in­clu­sive of the elec­tri­cal metal tub­ing.

*** As promised, this weeks’ col­umn is of­fer­ing another con­test to win a free, threein-one light, pH and mois­ture me­ter, by an­swer­ing my gar­den­ing ques­tion. The first per­son to cor­rectly an­swer my ques­tion wins. As al­ways, Ce­cil County Mas­ter Gar­den­ers and their fam­i­lies are not el­i­gi­ble to en­ter.

When it comes to in­sects in the garden, many folks have dif­fi­culty iden­ti­fy­ing if they are good or bad bugs. Can you name two ben­e­fi­cial garden in­sects?

Good luck. The Ce­cil County Mas­ter Gar­den­ers and I thank you for help­ing cre­ate a healthy en­vi­ron­ment that will last for years to come. Happy gar­den­ing, Ken Fis­cher Please sub­mit all your gar­den­ing ques­tions and avail­able pho­tos to kfis­cher­mas­ter gar­dener@ya­hoo.com.

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