I’ve come to love a jungle of tomato plants, and successfully pulling off a productive bed of healthy plants gives a nice feeling of accomplishment.There are two schools of though regarding these plants – let the plants sprawl, or cage/stake them to grow upward. I prefer the tidiness of staking, it gets the fruit off the ground and looks better in my opinion. There is some debate as to whether staking helps prevent disease and pests since the leaves are not in contact with soil. I prefer staking for clean, happy plants, but more importantly, a happy, tidy garden.
Since I have one of my 4’x18′ beds filled with nothing but tomatoes, that means too many plants to cage up with commercial tomato cages or home-made cages crafted out of concrete mesh or other steel material. The problem with these is they rust away, giving five to ten years of service in our climate before being useless, unless meticulously cared for. At $7 each (bare minimum for the cheap ones) in our local stores, that comes to $189 for all 27 of my plants (seventy cents a year if carried over a 10 year span of useful service). Besides, most commercial tomato cage are not really beefy or large enough for my likes, and they just don’t cut it.
Instead, I was inspired by the Florida Weave, a great technique if you have long rows of tomatoes. I suppose that my garden is arranged in long rows if I were to do the Florida Weave lengthwise, each row being nine plants. But I want a really tight and rigid system, not just twine. So I don’t need the weave, but it got my mind working. I figured I could use T-posts and cross pieces of bamboo poles to make my whole garden into a compact, trellised box. I decided to stake each short row of plants on each end with a six foot steel T-post. These are the posts used for barbed wire fences. You can get them at home improvement centers or feed stores. I did one on each short row of three plants, meaning I needed 18 posts. At $3.87 each (and you can get them cheaper) the total was just under $70. Over ten years, that’s twenty five cents a plant, but these posts will last 25-30 years, probably longer than I will live. I won’t need more unless I add more garden space. Lets assume once in a lifetime purchase for an average gardener. The only recurring cost would be twine and bamboo poles to make the cross pieces.
My bamboo poles that I bough nearly 10 years ago have been outdoors on the side of my house baking in the sun. Yet I could press them into service if needed. Bamboo really lasts. Lets give each pole five years of service. So really all you have to replace is bamboo every five years. Not too costly, say $30 for enough bamboo to cover the garden. So ultimately, its cheaper than tomato cages, and in my opinion, more versatile and effective.
Plant a T post on each end of a row of tomatoes. In my rows there are three plants. If you have any form of near-standard square foot garden or a raised bed with a width of around 4 feet, you can get three plants across. Consider this a short row. Plat a T-post on each end of the row, and then tie a bamboo pole across the bed at the 1 foot height. You can go cheap and use one pole and tie your plants to the bamboo, or you can do like I did and use two poles and capture the plants in between. Its far easier that way. If you really want to go cheap, just do a Florida weave across the three plants with twine.
As the plants grow, add another cross section of bamboo. You really shouldn’t need more than three unless you have mammoth plants, and lets hope we all do!