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Tomato Cage Ad Lib – The Shoestring Herbalist

Tomato Cage Ad Lib – The Shoestring Herbalist

As far as my tomatoes go, my eyes are much bigger than my stomach. I see tomato plants, even straggly looking tomato plants that should have been planted a month ago, and I rescue them and pop them in the ground. The poor darlings! How can I leave them to die?

Here is the problem: I prefer indeterminate tomatoes. How is that a problem? Let’s back up a bit.

As a reminder, there are two types of tomato plants: Determinate and Indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes are bush tomatoes. They develop tomatoes at the ends of the stem (terminal end). They grow about 4 feet tall and produce all their tomatoes within a two-week period.

Determinate tomatoes can be cage-free plants. Unless you are me. My soil is hardy and the tomatoes grow bigger than normal, which endangers the tomato stems with breakage from the weight of the fruit.

Indeterminate tomatoes are “vining” tomatoes. They develop fruit along the stem. They need to be staked or tied to the tomato cage for support. They produce tomatoes for a longer period of time than determinate tomatoes. As I have a vast collection of tomato varieties planted, indeterminate tomatoes let me savor the different flavors without being overwhelmed with a staggering two-week harvest.

Either way, I need tomato support for my plants. I have 20 tomato cages. I have to fortify my cages with bamboo stakes to keep them from bending the cages. This means I run out of tomato cages and have to ad lib.

Apple Branches Tied Together for Tomato Support

Apple Branches Tied Together for Tomato Support

The ad libbed cages are pretty simple. They either consist of bamboo stakes tied in a pyramid or apple tree branches driven into the ground like little letter Ys. I tied the top ends together with ribbon our twist ties. The apple branch supports work best for the determinate tomatoes.

I use apple branches because I have an apple tree that needs pruning and apple branches are sturdy. Other branches could be used just as easily.

I am not a fancy gardener. I use whatever is on hand. I have tied plants to stakes using twist ties, yarn, Christmas ribbon, shoe laces, copper electrical wire, and hair scrunchies. I’m not proud. Whatever works.

My bamboo pole pyramid supports have two purposes. I know I should rotate my crops, but I am limited in space, so I build the bamboo pyramids in February and plant peas at the base of the poles. This is nitrogen fixing for the soil. In addition, I give my tomatoes a dose of organic goldfish tank water to keep them happy. It makes the soil healthier when I plant my renegade tomatoes in May.

Tomatoes and Parsley Burst from Their Cages

Tomatoes and Parsley Burst from Their Cages

By June, most of my tomatoes are hefty, waist high wonders. They are flowering and hinting at a bountiful harvest. Here and there, I have a few rescued tomato runts. I baby them along with extra fertilizer and loving words. By the end of the season, I usually get a few tomatoes from them as thanks for the ad libbed support. I’m just happy they are alive. They weren’t asking for a fancy tomato cage. They just wanted a chance to grow.

Sue Sierralupe

Sue Sierralupé is a Certified Master Herbalist, Master Gardener and Sustainable Landscape Specialist. She is the clinic manager and lead herbalist at Occupy Medical clinic. Sue is author of The Pocket Herbal: Medicinal Plants that Changed the World and co-author of The Practical Herbalist Herbal Folios series. Follow her blog at Herbalism Manifesto for commentary on herbs, parenting, nutrition and a whole lot more.


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