At some point we may just break down and buy tomato cages. My brother Ruffin seems to have no trouble managing 20 cages at his suburban home, so I don’t know why I’m so resistant to them. Each time we get to this point, though, I focus on using what we already have on hand. And right now we have 34 tomato plants, so cages wouldn’t be a trivial expense.
So we have now tried four different ways to support our tomatoes, with varying degrees of success. Let’s review:
T-posts and twine. This was the first method we tried, and it was the only support system we used last year. We sank a t-post at either end of a line of two or three tomato plants, and then wrapped twine around the plants and the posts in a figure eight pattern. Here’s the post about it. It worked reasonably well to support the tomatoes, although the twine did break a couple of times as the season wore on. My big concern about staking the tomatoes this way is that it pushes all the foliage and fruit together, inhibiting the air flow within the plant. I didn’t recall seeing any sign of fungus, but in retrospect, it was a big risk with the foliage all mashed together the way we had it.
PVC Teepee. The first support method we tried this year was to build a series of “teepees” of 3/4″ PVC pipe (we have more than we need, so all problems at Longleaf Breeze are resolved if at all possible with generous use of 3/4″ PVC pipe). We cut 78″ lengths and lashed them together at the top and then stuck them in the ground, doing our best to position one of the legs of the teepee close to each plant. We then used twine to tie the tomatoes to one of the legs. Worked great and looked really spiffy, until we had the first violent thunderstorm, which knocked over a couple of the teepees and caused them to take the tomatoes with them. We won’t do that any more.
PVC Post For Each Plant. This is the method we were using until yesterday. I cut a 48″ length of 3/4″ PVC pipe with a flat cut at one end a pointed cut at the other, so I could drive one of the pipes into the ground close to each tomato. This worked fine until we had our worst storm yet on Sunday while we were gone, and it knocked over 4-5 of the stakes, causing them to take the tomatoes with them. It’s worth noting, by the way, that all this violence hasn’t yet hurt the tomatoes themselves. Although they seem to have little strength in their stems, they are blessed with the gift of flexibility.
PVC Ribs Lashed to PVC Trunk. If it seems that I have a one-track mind and cannot envision any solution to tomato trellising that doesn’t involve using 3/4″ PVC pipe, let me refer you to the statement in #2 above. You thought I was exaggerating; I wasn’t. The method we used in setting up the trellis yesterday was to sink three t-posts in a line and lash to them with wire a 20′ length of 1 1/2″ PVC pipe (yes, we have a couple of those left too). We then lashed to that lateral “trunk” a series of 3/4″ PVC pipes cut to 78″ and stuck as firmly as possible into the ground next to each tomato plant. Then we tied each plant to that rib using sisal twine. Here’s what our latest iteration looks like. If you’re interested, click on each photo to see a larger, clearer version. I’ll let you know how these hold up. And we’re keeping an eye on the cost of those cages.