Many of the 3-foot-tall tomato cages on the market won’t hold a Better Boy or German Johnson tomato plant that wants to grow more than 5 feet high. Instead, I use long-lasting tomato cages I made from concrete reinforcing wire. It’s similar to fence wire, but the openings are all 6 by 6 inches, which makes it easy to pull 1-pound tomatoes through the cage.
Making cages from concrete wire is a good project for community gardens because the wire rolls are big and heavy. They’re also about $100 for a 5- by 150-foot roll that will make 27 cages — more than one gardener alone needs. To build them, you’ll need gloves, a bolt cutter and a couple of helpers. Lay down the wire, and have one helper stand on the end of the roll while a second helper unrolls the wire. Count a length of 11 full squares (51/2 feet), and clip the wire using bolt cutters so your cage has one edge with lots of wire “fingers” and the opposite edge is smooth. The wire is springy, so carefully pull the sides together and fold the “fingers” over the smooth side to create a tube with an 18-inch diameter that stands 5-feet tall. Often, my ‘maters grow taller than that, but I just let the vines dangle over the sides.
I grow four slicing-tomato plants in four cages arranged cheek-by-jowl in a square. To keep the cages from falling over, tie a 3-inch piece of jute string at each of the four points where the tops of the cages meet, creating a more stable footprint. That takes much less time and trouble and fewer materials than staking each cage — which, of course, leaves more time for battering up fried green tomatoes!