Don’t engineers even grow tomatoes?

Don’t engineers even grow tomatoes?

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Guest Rant by Rebecca Caley

The tomato plants are so thick and sturdy, nothing can bring them down.  That’s their story and they’re sticking to it.  Never trust a tomato.  Their goal is to reproduce by getting rotten tomatoes on the ground.  They will fight the trellis, the cage, gravity.  They will win.

Don’t engineers grow tomatoes?  In the hundreds of years tomatoes have been cultivated, the standard support is still an upside-down wire cone?!

Isn’t there some principle about a wide base being most stable?  I’m thinking Jabba the Hutt or the Sphinx, wide on the bottom.  You never see them fall over, right?
I found a square, fat-bottom tomato cage at a hardware store four years ago. Fat-bottom tomato cage, you make the rockin’ world go round!  It even has an open side.  We can pretend that’s for reaching in to pick the fruit more easily, but we all know it’s for cramming those plants in when you have waited too long to cage them.  It’s beautifully painted with no sharp corners.  But it’s kinda small.  There must be a step I missed between just learning to grow, and tomatoes crushing me like a Hoarder.  This well-designed little cage is for posers.  They have a back room at the hardware store where they keep the hard-core stuff.
The lack of positive reinforcement after all my tomato supporting effort just sucks my motivation like the last Red Lobster biscuit.  I feel like I’m voting for President – Are these really the only choices?

So I consulted with the world wide oracle of knowledge: the internet.  What surprises!  People building sturdy wooden trellises that look like…my kids’ toy teepees?

Going to have to try that!

In the back of my mind, probably because I have a repressed memory attached, is the idea that a large piece of big-weave fencing can be set in an arch beside the tomato plant.  The tomato plant leans on the fencing, creating a shady tunnel with easy access to unlimited, tasty garden jewels.  In my zone this is called Black Widow Heaven.  It might work in Alaska or Wisconsin or someplace with cold winters.  In Georgia you will need to wear long sleeves, gloves and take a shower after your heat stroke.

Engineers that grow tomato plants probably stake them so efficiently and in such a timely manner that the method is of little importance.  I flunked out of engineer school.  My tomatoes have always been in the back of the class with their heads down trying not to be seen.  They never needed staking.  I probably should have paid more attention in statics.  Or dynamics.  Or physics, calculus, differential equations…anything.

This year’s perfect tomato storm is sending me flashbacks of all the tomato-tying failures in this life and past lives.  I am less inclined to try to save the tomatoes and more inclined to eat ice cream, which requires no trellis.

I’ve found multiple directions for DIY cages made from fencing that all bear an awesome resemblance to the giant Kerplunk game on This Old House website.

So far, I have pounded five pallet boards around six of my 150 tomato plants.  Then I ran twine this way and that until it looked like the booby trap my son built that took down every adult in our family.  Sorry, Granny.  You needed that hip replacement years ago.

Do you think it will stand?

I sank three ‘rustic’ wire tomato cages as deeply as possible around four pathetic tomato plants that couldn’t fight back.

What incredible salesmanship to convince so many people that these wire contraptions would work!  My little boy described how the whole thing is going to topple like a fallen tree in a storm.  Right after he explained why the snake in the chicken coop must be pregnant.

I’m searching for something more sophisticated than the empty potting soil bag I usually shove under the plants when they fall, but something more stable than a toy top.  I’m sure you have some suggestions.  Please leave them below.

Rebecca Caley started selling plants as a child and opened her first garden center in coastal South Carolina at age 23 – just last year! (Give or take a couple decades.)  She now lives outside of Atlanta.  She has twin boys, 3 cats, 9 chickens and an 8 foot black rat snake, but it’s just squatting.

Posted by

Garden Rant
on July 3, 2013 at 12:29 pm, in the category Eat This, Guest Rants.

16 Comments
    • Rebecca Caley
    • 4th July 2016

    Thank you!

    • val
    • 31st October 2016

    I’ve actually had good luck with the gardeners.com stacking tomato ladders. Granted, I have to place three in a row–one is not enough. I also I keep my tomatoes pruned thin to avoid the zillion fungal spores lurking in my garden. What I find lacking in most tomato supports is height. What’s a 3 foot tall hunk of metal going to do for an 8 foot vine?

    • Rebecca Caley
    • 13th November 2016

    Completely agree! The hardware store special ordered more of the square, open-sided cage and they look great! But those toms are still only 3 ft tall and don’t have any toms yet. My cat could hold them up!

    • Rebecca Caley
    • 14th November 2016

    I’m going to check out those stacking cages!

    • JenTea
    • 15th November 2016

    I have 10 tomato plants in 5 SWCs, and yes, they all have the Cones Of Doom. HOWEVER, since they are so densely planted, I use cable zip ties to connect each wobbly cone to its neighbors (usually in two places) and they create a much more stable whole. Been working for about 5 years. The ones out in the garden proper usually end up falling over at some point.

    • Rebecca Caley
    • 15th November 2016

    Awesome! My ‘classic’ cages are snuggling too. Spacing is just a suggestion, right? I’ll zip tie them today! I am going to spray paint them yellow next year so I can find them before I hit them with the mower again.

    • Marcy
    • 15th November 2016

    Zip ties are a great idea! I have SFGs, so mine are close as well. I normally run bamboo poles through them horizontally at different angles to stabilize them together. I tried a new kind this time (for a few plants–they are expensive). I think it was called something like, “World’s Best Tomato Cage”. It’s a 3 pole system with counter-braces that are movable. What I really like about it is that you can change the position of the braces as the tomatoes grow.

    • John
    • 15th November 2016

    I’ve built many of my own tomato cages with concrete remesh and they’re indestructible. There’s a decent time and energy investment making them, but the results are well worth it.

    • admin
    • 16th November 2016

    What I hate about remesh is: 1) rusty! 2) sharp parts! 3) difficult to work with.

    • Rebecca Caley
    • 16th November 2016

    Love the off-list uses of hardware! Do you have a lot of them? Have you heard of the “classic cage supported by galvanized pipes?

    • John
    • 17th November 2016

    Rebecca – I have about a dozen of them. A 50 foot roll gave me about 14 cages, I gave a couple to the in-laws for a present (they were quite happy). They’re also strong enough that I cage every other tomato plant and one cage is sturdy enough to hold two or three plants leaning on it.

    • John
    • 17th November 2016

    Alan – I totally agree with all your complaints. You have to REALLY be on your toes when you’re working with it or you’re gonna get stuck in the leg. It was a good cool weather project for me, when it was too cold in the winter to work outside, I spent time in the shop working on the cages.

    • Rebecca Caley
    • 17th November 2016

    My good friend’s husband, Thor, made those too. Very impressive. She grew cucumbers, beans and peas on hers too. I’m holding a little grudge because now that she has them she has quit coming over for gossip and weeding.

    • Maire
    • 18th November 2016

    We are also using concrete mesh tubes. The cages will support 7 foot tall tomatoes – but they must be staked or they will fall over.

    • Ray Eckhart
    • 18th November 2016

    Blame Fearing Burr for the design. Check out page 630 of The Field and Garden Vegetables of America Book from the 1800’s:

    • Rebecca Caley
    • 18th November 2016

    Fearing Burr? That was really a name back then? I could make that into SO many jokes! It is just ripe for the picking!

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