Numerous readers of this column have been calling or emailing me over the last couple of weeks to inquire about the tomato cages I apparently wrote about here in the past.
The problem is, that when I type “tomato cages” into the search engine of the word processor, it pulls up nearly 200 instances of columns wherein I have used the word “tomato” and several dozen that have the word “cage.”
The short end of a much longer story is that it seems easier to write a new column on the subject than it is to try to find the original text. Suffice to say that I had no idea that I have been so obsessed with tomatoes over the 35 years or so that this column has been taking up space in your newspaper. Plus, I’ve only been doing it on a computer for less than 20 years, not that that made finding the tomato cage column any easier.
Anyway, it seems much easier to write a new piece on the subject than to keep on trying to find the original(s).
I believe the year was 1986 when I first read about constructing tomato cages in a back issue of Mother Earth News, a magazine that, at the time, catered to the whims of aging hippies still bent on communing with Mother nature and getting back to the basics of leading a simpler, self-sufficient lifestyle.
The article dealt with using old field or cattle pasture fence wire to construct various shapes and sizes of vegetable supports and trellises. It went on to say that, if you couldn’t find any old fencing, concrete re-mesh cost less than half the price of brand new, proper fencing and worked just as well or better.
So that’s what I did. I found a 100 feet long X 5 feet wide roll of re-mesh at a place in Lexington for less than $30. I’ve just discovered that it is more than triple that price these days, but before the week is out, I have to purchase at least a 50 foot spool of the stuff because my 30-year old tomato cages have done their due.
So, I had the re mesh which, incidentally, does look remarkably like cattle fencing, rolled out in my front yard and I was industriously engaged in using a set of wire cutters to cut it into 3 feet sections for tomatoes and 10 feet pieces for beans when the late Junior Helton rolled in and asked what on earth I was doing.
I told him I was making tomato cages and Junior promptly wanted to know why.
“Where do you reckon they’re going to go if you don’t pen em up,” he asked?
“I’ve never had any problem with mine even trying to leave the garden and it even fenced,” he said.
When I explained that I was using them to support the plants and keep the fruit off the ground, Junior allowed that he had always used tobacco sticks to stake his maters and had no intention of changing his ways.
But he watched, intently, as I took one of the sections and attached the opposing ends into a circular hoop that was just over a foot in diameter. By snipping the wire right at the mesh joints of each 3 foot section, I used a pair of pliers to bend the ends into hooks so that they will snap right back to the opposite end of each section. The tension of the wire will hold the connections in place and, presto, you have a tomato cage that will last at least 30 years even if you leave, as I do, them out in the weather year round. I’m reasonably sure they would last much, much longer if they were properly stored throughout cold, wet weather and I defy you to come up with a better tomato support system at any price.
Even at todays re-mesh prices I can make them for about 3 bucks a pop plus whatever value I might put on my labor. I saw some similar ones at a garden supply place the other day priced at $14.95 and they were constructed of wire far inferior to re-mesh. We won’t even talk about what they would cost if you used modern field fence wire. Apparently that stuff is made of precious metals these days.
Just remember that you need to use a mesh that has squares of at least 4 inches so you can easily reach through it to pick your maters. I use 6 inch mesh because I aim to grow some maters that won’t fit through a 4 inch hole.
Reach longtime Enterprise columnist Ike Adams at [email protected] or on Facebook or 249 Charlie Brown Road, Paint Lick, KY 40461.