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Build The Ultimate Tomato Cage Using A 3D Lattice Design

Updated on September 16, 2014
Photo derived by Robert Kernodle, symbolizing enhanced support for tomato plants.
Photo derived by Robert Kernodle, symbolizing enhanced support for tomato plants.

The Idea

Envision a cylinder, 60 inches tall and 30 inches in diameter, sitting upright on the ground. Imagine dividing the volume of this cylinder into cubes measuring 6 by 6 by 6 inches. Visualize the edges of these cubes as rigid wires, and the rest of the volume as empty space. This is a three-dimensional wire lattice shaped like a cylinder – the IDEAL model of my proposed "ultimate tomato cage".

Drawing by Robert Kernodle showing ideal design of cylindrical 3-D lattice tomato cage.
Drawing by Robert Kernodle showing ideal design of cylindrical 3-D lattice tomato cage.

The IDEAL

Such a cylinder could serve as a rigid, 3-D-lattice trellis that provided:

  • ample space for light, air, and rain to enter,
  • ample room for vines to grow,
  • ample wires where growing vines could find support spontaneously in all three spatial planes,
  • ample clearance for hands to reach into any part of the cylinder's volume.

Beyond Standard Remesh Tomato Cages

If you search the Internet, you can find numerous instructional articles and videos describing how to build a homemade tomato cage with heavy-gauge wire mesh used in reinforcing concrete. This reinforcing mesh is logically called "remesh". As you can see from the many instructional resources online, you roll a piece of remesh into a cylinder that sits over a tomato plant as the plant's support system (like an exoskeleton).

Standard Remesh Tomato Cage

Drawing by Robert Kernodle, showing standard design of remesh tomato cage.
Drawing by Robert Kernodle, showing standard design of remesh tomato cage.

A standard remesh tomato cage has a 6" X 6" support lattice on the SURFACE of the defining cylinder. I want to go a step further (or a dimension deeper) by extending this support to a 6" X 6" X 6" lattice throughout the VOLUME of the defining cylinder. Easily constructing my ideal 3-D lattice cage, however, is NOT possible. Notice, I say, "easily". Constructing such an ideal would be too laborious and costly for most people, probably involving welding or interweaving numerous wires to sculpt the full 6" X 6" X 6" wire lattice. Furthermore, this ideal might be overkill.

Do we really need every one of those wires (shown in the ideal design) to produce a practical version of a cylindrical 3-D lattice? My best judgment tells me that the answer is "no" – we need ONLY a portion of a 3-D lattice to provide a 3-D lattice effect. We, thus, can use the ideal to get to the real or the practical.

Enhanced Remesh Tomato Cage

Drawing by Robert Kernodle showing practical design of a cylindrical 3-D lattice tomato cage.
Drawing by Robert Kernodle showing practical design of a cylindrical 3-D lattice tomato cage.

The PRACTICAL Design

The way I suggest creating enhanced support using a 3-D lattice ideal is to make and attach round remesh shelves at selected heights inside the remesh cylinder. In my drawing, I suggest shelves at three heights – 18", 30", and 42" above ground level.

Maybe one shelf would suffice, or two. I have NOT built the cage yet, and so I have not had the opportunity to experiment with this particular question.

Three shelves would provide two one-foot thick support cells near the center height of the tomato plant, and two other, larger support cells (one below and one above center height). The effect would be to add a full matrix of wires in the X-Z planes at these heights, while adding a more widely spaced matrix of wires in the X-Y and Y-Z planes throughout the entire height of the cylinder.

The wire shelves, thus, would serve a dual function:

  1. to provide vertical guide holes all the way from the central axis to the perimeter of the plant, holding vines closer to the central axis (hence more vertically) as they grow,
  2. to provide horizontal surfaces onto which draping vines might rest, keeping their fruit from touching the ground.

How To Cut Those Shelves

I envision using a cardboard pattern, laid onto a length of remesh, whose outline I mark with chalk to indicate the perimeter where I allow extra distance, as I cut with bolt cutters, to make prongs that attach the shelves. After cutting, I first bend the attaching prongs at a 90-degree angle upward, so that I can slide the shelf inside the cylinder, and then, at the desired height, I bend the prongs down to secure the shelf at this height.

Again, as of this writing (September 2014), I have NOT made the cage. At this stage, I am merely suggesting the design. I currently find that the cost of using remesh is too high, because it only comes in rolls of 150-feet at $107+tax. Like many home vegetable gardeners, I do NOT need 150 feet. At most, I need one third of this length.

Remesh Cost Survey

As a vegetable gardener, are you willing to spend $107+tax for a 150-foot roll of remesh (6"x6" openings, five feet tall)?

See results

DIY Tomato Cage

Comments

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    • AConger profile image

      Ann Conger 

      4 years ago from Alabama

      I am working on building a raised bed garden. Got to get a good source for soil mix next year. Maybe the local co-op and online source for what I can't find local. So tired og the high price and unknown quality of store bought food this days.

    • Robert Kernodle profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Kernodle 

      4 years ago

      I suppose that, if you prune appropriately, you could par back the size of my typical growth to around the 5-foot height. I think I grow "Better Boy", and they always exceed the five-foot chicken wire ceiling height of my raised-bed caged garden. One branch always seems to grow another two feet tall beyond that 5-foot limit.

      I feel that even a five-foot-tall cage could handle seven feet, allowing for later season drape or maybe a little height-extension ingenuity.

      As for breadth of the plants, I need to give them three feet of diameter each.

      For a circular cage, 30" diameter would probably be enough, since a 30-inch-diameter circle is about the same area as a 36-inch square.

    • AConger profile image

      Ann Conger 

      4 years ago from Alabama

      No problem. What variety of tomato you growing? I am only 5 ft. I might need to skip that one. Although I always like a good challenge.

    • Robert Kernodle profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Kernodle 

      4 years ago

      AConger,

      The wire basket you mention would be great, if it were a bit larger. The image of what you are talking about is here:

      http://www.pfinnovation.com/wp-content/uploads/201...

      The type of tomato plants that I grow typically grow to a height of seven feet or more, and they would easily consume a cage diameter of thirty inches, which is TWICE the size of the wire basket or dump bin on that website you mention.

      Thanks for letting me know about this.

      -- Robert

    • AConger profile image

      Ann Conger 

      4 years ago from Alabama

      Very good idea. I work in the grocery business and we used wire baskets as dump bins about the same diameter as a tomato cage and they had inserts that were adjustable so you could set the depth of the contents. Might find some on ebay. There's a picture on this website you can look at. pfinnovation

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