Crop circles

Today Dan and I finally put together the re-mesh tomato cages that have been on the list for oh so long.  More than once I’ve gone on vacation only to return home and find that my formerly tidy row of plants had quadrupled in size while I was camping, so I was lured into the cage concept by the understanding I would not have to prune or tie up the tomatoes.  Sold!

I purchased the re-mesh, or concrete reinforcing wire mesh, back in January, thinking it would be a good winter project, but as with so many things just never got to it.  With tomato season imminent, the project finally moved to the top of the list.  I’ve seen them for years but was finally inspired by another gardener who uses the cages and decided to give it a try.

The cages were actually pretty simple to put together.  We laid the roll of wire down on the lawn and unrolled it long enough to cut a couple of cages at a time.  The wire wants to re-roll, so Dan filled a couple of buckets with stones and brick rubble and used the buckets to hold the wire in place. We made the cages about 24 inches in diameter, cutting them at every 14th opening.  We made sure to cut the wire close the vertical wire, leaving nice long horizontal pieces to loop around the other edge of the cage to hold it together.

Finally, we cut a few of the vertical wires on the bottom of the cages to make prongs to hold the cage in position.  The prongs are really just for positioning purposes.  As seen in the link above, tomatoes become huge, so the cages will also need something much sturdier to hold them upright.  We will probably continue the concrete reinforcing theme with some 8″ long pieces of rebar inserted into each cage to hold them securely in place.

We are fortunate that our local hardware store was willing to loan us some bolt cutters, as this made the process much faster than using a saw to cut the pieces of re-mesh to size, although that would work.  Something I thought of after the fact which would have made the process much easier would have been to have a 6″ piece of small-diameter pipe to use to slip over the wire to bend it.  The pipe would have given added leverage making the process much easier.

The steps:

1. Cut the re-mesh into 78″ long pieces, making the cut close to the vertical wire thus leaving long wire tails.

2.  Bend the wire panel into a tube, and using a piece of small-diameter pipe, bend the wire tails around the vertical wire on the other edge to hold the cage together.  The cage will be somewhat elliptical in shape.

3.  Put the cage on its side and squish the cage into a circular shape.

4. Cut one of the horizontal wires every third square, and bend it so that it protrudes straight down from the bottom of the cage, to act as a positioning stake.

With luck, I won’t need to tie or prune the tomatoes in these cages, something that is always a challenge for me.  The cages should last for years.  I will leave them in the garden during the winter months and see what happens.

Some things to note: 

  • Make sure your tetanus vaccine is up to date.  The cut ends of the wire are sharp and the wire is stiff and will spring back into its previous position if you let go of it.  I got a nice bloody scratch on my leg right through my jeans.
  • You’ll need heavy gloves.  The leather gloves in this photo were very worn and didn’t give me as much protection as I would have liked.
  • You will get covered in rust, and rust stains.  Wear old clothes, and plan to shower before you return your borrowed tool to the hardware store or you might earn a new nickname (Rusty).  I’m told that eventually the rust stabilizes and will not rub off on everything.

    It is hard to see in this photo, but don't these cages look a tiny bit like the Olympic rings? Olympic rings for gardeners, I like that.

We made 14 cages in about 2 hours.  I’m sure it would have been less time had I thought of the pipe for leverage before we finished. The re-mesh was $95, and we have quite a bit of re-mesh left.  We might try using similar cages for pole beans and smaller ones for cucumbers.  Still, for 14 cages, that boils down to $6.78 per cage.  Compared to commercial supports, these seem downright thrifty.  Look for updates on the use of the cages throughout the summer months.

8 Responses to “Crop circles”

  1. GrafixMuse Says:

    Great tutorial! I have seen these used on other blogs as well and they seem to provide the best support for the price.

  2. villager Says:

    Ditto to what Grafixmuse said! Now when people want to know how to make the cages I will send them here. I got a 50 ft roll of remesh on sale this year and I’m going to make some smaller ones for cucumbers. I have a few that the previous homeowners left us, but I need some more.

    The rust does seem to stabilize with time. I caged a few of my early tomatoes this weekend and the rust didn’t rub off at all. Once again, great tutorial and I hope they work out well for you.

  3. Daphne Gould Says:

    I thought about this kind of cage when I was debating what to get. I just don’t have the place to store them and don’t like leaving them outside all winter long in the beds. I used to do this with my last set of cages, but decided this time I wanted ones that folded and wasn’t rusty. I was tired of rusty cages. Though now I have rebar to hold down my row covers so I still get rusty out in the garden. They sure are cheap though.

    • Ali Says:

      Daphne, if my veggie garden were as close to the house, I would go the route of prettier. Our garden is 100 feet away, so I don’t mind the ugly cages. The floating row cover though… that I hate. But it works, sigh.

  4. Karen Anne Says:

    I have the Gardeners Supply cages of galvanized steel, so they don’t rust, but they cost twice what the ones you made. I also like that they fold more or less flat for storage. If a plant gets too tall for them, I stack two together and attach them with plastic clothespins.,15172,default,cp.html

    • Ali Says:

      I like the clothespin idea! That is brilliant! I’ve been thinking about making some extensions on 1-2 cages for the Sungold and Matt’s Wild cherry tomatoes, since they are likely to outgrow the cage, but wondering how to connect them. Bingo!

  5. Mike Says:

    I’ve been using the remesh cages for tomatoes for years, and am convinced they are the best way to get a lot of production from one plant. When I moved to this place in the sticks I bought two of the 4’x8′ sheets of remesh at the Menards store. Three of the squares overlap giving a 24″ diameter cage, like yours. Those cages must have been galvanized because they never rusted. Just recently I bought three more sheets of remesh for more cages and they were totally rusted. I painted on this stuff with a toothbrush – CCR, The Must for Rust – which reacts with the rust to form a barrier. Seems to work although it looks like it will need another treatment. For support I drive two 6′ fence posts, the kinds with the hooks, into the ground and suspend the cage on the posts so the bottom is about a foot and a half off the ground. This gives the tomato almost 6 feet of vertical space to grow in.

  6. Robin Says:

    I LOVE our mesh cages and I use them for EVERYTHING! I am hoping to get Lee to make me some more this year. They so beat those wimpy tomato cages you can buy in the store.

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