I’ve never liked tomato cages.
They sit there, neatly stacked in the garden center, promising to bestow order on snaking tomato stems. Some of them even come in vibrant colors, as though that might help. But it doesn’t.
IMHO, there isn’t a tomato cage alive that can contain multiple six-to-eight-foot vines without creating a tangled mess. I’m talking about vines of indeterminate tomatoes—the ones that sprawl all over creation.
Then, of course, there’s the storage problem, if you can wrench the cage away from the tomato without destroying the structure at the end of the season. I usually manage to scratch myself with the bits of metal extending from the bottom of the cage.
Regarding storage, folding cages take less room, but usually cost a princely sum. Often, though, they’re still not tall enough to contain unruly vines.
So I’ve tried other approaches. I’ve created a trellis from electrical conduit, securing the corners with nifty 90-degree connectors, then tying trellis netting to the top and sides. This worked until the weight of the vines caused the trellis to fall against my privacy fence. If you’ve got a fence as backup, that’s fine. But don’t rely on electrical conduit for a free-standing structure.
Then there are U-posts. I’ve found that these are much sturdier than electrical conduit. You can install a couple of them in the ground, secure a crossbar up high, and tie trellis netting to the posts and crossbar. As for the crossbar, I’m currently experimenting with a bamboo stick. It’s light, but strong. I tied the stick to the tops of the U-posts, but found that the connection was tenuous. So I placed gorilla tape over the top of the bamboo stick, then wrapped gorilla tap around the tops of the U-posts, securing the top strap of gorilla tape in the process. It seems to be holding well.
If you anticipate an unusually heavy crop, you can add a third U-post in the middle to make your trellis sturdier. I like the 6 1/2-foot posts which, by the way, are easy as heck to store.
Or you can just leave the posts in the ground for next year. It’s a good idea, though, to rotate your tomato crops, so you may end up supporting a different vegetable with those stakes the following season.
Gently tie your vines to the trellis netting with a stretchy material, such as pantyhose or elastic. That way, the ties will expand as the plant stems grow larger.
So far, my U-post/bamboo structure is working. If that changes, I’ll let you know.