The first tomato cages I used were some that I bought. They are pretty simple, just three upright pieces of wire welded to four wire hoops to make a cone shape. They measure eighteen inches (48 cm) across the top, which is the widest part. They are fifty-four inches (137 cm) tall, but the effective height depends on how deeply you push the wire ends into the soil. Pretend there’s a plant growing up into the cage in the photo below.
I still use the commercial tomato cages with peppers, eggplant, and okra, but they weren’t sturdy enough to support my tomatoes.
I thought I could make something better, so I built my own tomato cages from some fence material. I cut a length of fencing, formed it into a cylinder, and bent the cut wire ends around the opposite side to fasten it together. I cut off the hoop of wire that made up the bottom of the cage, so the ends of the wire became “feet” that could be pushed into the soil for support, similar to the commercial version above. They are about the same size as well, eighteen inches (48 cm) across by forty-five inches (115 cm) tall once they are anchored in the soil. They have rusted over the years, and blend in pretty well.
When they were full of large tomato plants, these cages tended to fall over if there was a strong wind. Although they have many wire “feet” to push into the soil, each “foot” penetrates only a few inches (about 8 cm), so they don’t have much holding power. I now use them to protect my blueberry bushes from rabbits, as in the photo above. Rabbits like to gnaw on blueberry branches in the winter.
Another problem with these cages is that the openings are only two by four inches (5 by 10 cm), which is too small to extract your hand when holding a tomato. Therefore, I cut larger access holes in the cages and bent the cut wire out of the way to avoid injury. This made the cages rather time-consuming to construct. The limited number of access holes meant that the tomato picker had to go through some interesting contortions to reach every tomato. In this closeup photo, you can see one of the openings I made, and to the left of it is where the two ends of the fence material have been joined together to make the cylinder.
The best tool for cutting and bending fence material is, of course, fencing pliers. They have strong wire cutters on the sides of the head, as well as two gripping areas. Overall length of my pliers is 10.5 inches (26 cm).
I was given some different fence material by a friend who had more than he needed. It’s also four feet (122 cm) tall but the wire from which this fencing is made is heavier and the openings are much larger. I used this to make the Mark II (new and improved!) tomato cages. As before, I cut lengths of this fencing and wound the wire ends around the vertical wires to form cylinders.
This time, I made the cages in three different diameters so they can be stored in less space. They are seventeen, twenty-three, and twenty-seven inches (43, 58, 69 cm) across, so they “nest” as in the photo below. Much like Goldilocks, I find that the medium size is the best match to how much space my tomatoes need, but the small and large sizes still work well enough.
The openings in this fence material vary in height from one end to the other. When you use it for an actual fence, you’re supposed to put the smaller openings at the bottom to contain smaller animals. With the tomato cages, I put the smaller openings at the top because they can be a little too small for your hand if you’re holding a large tomato, but if the small openings are at the top I can just reach over. In the photo, the largest openings are at the top, upside-down from how I actually use them.
I didn’t cut off the bottom hoop of wire to make the wire ends work as “feet.” That wasn’t very effective with the first tomato cages I built; they fell over too easily, and the wires needed to be straightened every year before I could push them into the ground. Instead, I tie the cages to electric fence posts for support, which is what I learned to do with the earlier cages. You can see my tomato cages “in action” in these three posts.
By the way, the electric fence posts are just a length of steel rod with a steel triangle welded to it, I guess to keep the post from twisting after it is driven into the ground. If you can’t find them, something like a four-foot (about 120 cm) length of concrete rebar (reinforcing bar) would work as well.