Cages for indeterminate tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum) plants support varieties that reach heights of 6 feet or more. In addition, caged plants produce more tomatoes than sprawling uncaged ones and are less susceptible to cracking and sunburn. Although ready-made tomato cages are available, you can make affordable do-it-yourself cages using recycled materials or from supplies found at your local hardware store. You'll need to pick a day when the kids are in school and a friend is available to help.
Wire Mesh Cage
Wire mesh cages are simple enough to make that even inexperienced do-it-yourself moms can make these basic tomato plant supports. These cages can be constructed quickly and affordably. Given the 5- to 7-foot height of a finished cage, the project is easier to complete with a second person helping out. Materials are basic: 6-by-6-inch wire mesh, steel T-posts and heavy-duty wire cutters. Construction is also simple. Cut 5- to 6-foot lengths of wire mesh. Roll them to create a circular cage of about 20 inches in diameter and bend the cut ends of the wire to hold the cage together or tie it with wire. Use steel T-posts to anchor the cage to the ground.
Wooden cages are more expensive to make, but they add attractive vertical elements to gardens, as well as strong support for tomato plants. The construction required for wood cages is basic, as the cage is built by making ladders. To make a four-sided cage, you'll need four 2-by-2-inch, 8-foot wood stakes, which are arranged in the four corners of a square and secured in the ground using a sledge hammer or pole pounder. To create the rungs, drill holes into the support stakes about every 6 inches starting 1 foot from the bottom and alternating sides of the stakes, and then insert thin wooden dowels through the holes to connect the stakes. Don't forget to take safety precautions when working on this or other DIY projects -- wear gloves and protective eyewear.
Livestock Panel Cage
Livestock panels can be used to make sturdy tomato cages. Two people are needed for this project, including one strong enough to use bolt cutters for cutting heavy-gauge galvanized wire. Other materials needed include a 6-foot, 2-by-6-inch wood plank and a 5/8-inch box wrench. Cut the panel into two 6.5-foot sections. Lay one cut panel on the ground and mark off a distance 18 inches from one side. Mark off two more 18-inch distances from the first one. At the first mark, place a wooden plank and, with both persons standing on the wire, bend it until it's perpendicular to the rest of the panel. Move the wood plank and bend the remaining two sections to create a square. Secure the cage using the box wrench to bend wire stubs around the vertical wires of the other panel side. Use rebar to anchor the cage.
Recycled PVC Pipe Cage
For moms comfortable using hacksaws and electric drills, creating a PVC pipe tomato cage is an affordable project, especially if recycled materials are used. The cage is constructed using three PVC pieces, 4 to 5 feet high and 3 inches across, and a 15-foot section of electrical conduit cut into nine 20-inch pieces. Arrange the three pipes in a triangle and secure into the ground. Drill three sets of two holes through each pipe the same distance apart and angled toward each of the other two supports. Insert the metal rods into the drilled holes, alternating supports, to create another ladder-type cage.