After Mr. Bill our master gardener at the Vineyard showed us how to properly plant tomato starts our plants consistently grow five to six feet in height. (I’ll write a future blog on what he showed us). The problem with such big plants, especially after they become loaded with heavy tomatoes, is the inadequacy of round commercial wire frames. Not only did I find myself driving in support posts every year as our plants grew heavier and taller to keep them from falling over (especially on windy days) but they were expensive. At first I constructed wooden frames like I’d seen in so many other vegetable gardens, but they were always falling into disrepair and in need of rebuilding year after year. That’s when we decided to build cages that would last forever out of steal farm panels.
A farm panel is a 16’ X 54” mesh panel made of heavy gage wire. They can be purchased at most any farm supply store because they are most commonly used for animal pens or corrals. We discovered that they work perfectly as lifelong, indestructible tomato frames and trellises for beans, peas, cucumbers and other climbing vegetables. Although the panels are manufactured out of heavy gage wire they can easily be cut with the use of bolt cutter, hacksaws or an oxy-acetylene cutting torch. I personally purchased a pair of small bolt cutters for this very purpose not only for their use in the vegetable garden, but because we use them for all kinds of other purposes around our homestead.
Knowing that the panels came in sixteen foot lengths we planted our young tomatoes in sixteen foot by two foot rows. I cut several of the panels into two foot sections to support the ends and middle of each row. This made perfect sixteen by two foot sturdy cages that stood fifty-four inches in height. Realizing we would be reassembling the frames year after year I heated and bent the horizontal wires of the two foot sections into vertical 90 degree hooks or tabs so that they could be interlocked at the corners with the sixteen foot lengths.
This will be our second year using the new cages. They worked perfectly last year even in our high winds and it will be a pleasure setting them up again this spring especially after we designed the new raised beds to match their dimensions.