Staking Tomatoes Instead of Caging Them

My brothers all put cages on their tomatoes, and they grow magnificent tomatoes. I say that even though my middle brother Ruffin watches in frustration as squirrels run across his yard with their evil rodentian jaws stuffed with Ruffin’s and Cathy’s prize Sweet 100s.

When we saw that our ‘maters were beginning to bust it, we thought first about what we could do to get some cages in place for them. The little tinkertoy cages they sell at Home Depot and at the nursery place down the street from us didn’t look like they would last more than a season or two. So we had decided we needed to buy a roll of goat fence and shape it to form cages.

And Amanda and I had more or less given up on getting cages out this weekend, because we had relatively little time to spend at the farm. That is, until we started reading on the Internet about using stakes for tomatoes instead of cages. The beauty of it for us was that all we needed to do it was t-posts (which we already own) and twine. So Saturday morning we did about 30 minutes of research on the Internet and decided to use the “Florida Weave” approach to staking our tomatoes.

We stopped on the way to the farm and bought a roll of polypropylene twine. I chose it because somebody said you need to use twine that won’t stretch. Bad idea. I’m an Eagle Scout, and I can pretty much do whatever I want to with knots, but you can’t tie knots worth squat with polypropylene twine, so I was stuck trying to pull things “sort of” tight. The next purchase I make will be some plain old cotton twine I can tie up however I want. Yes it will stretch, but that’s why my Daddy taught me how to tie a taut line hitch. Yes, it will rot, but probably not before the season’s end and certainly not before the plants are trained to grow in that direction anyway. And at season’s end, I would prefer that it be rotting so we can just throw it into the compost pile with the plant stalks.

We started by knocking t-posts into the soft ground of the garden using the t-post driver we bought last year at Farmers Feed & Seed in Wetumpka. I learned I need to wear ear protection when using the t-post driver, because my head is really close to the post at the moment of impact, and it generates an impressive ring when you’re that close. With the two t-posts set on either end of a row of tomato plants, we started by tying a knot about 10 inches off the ground. Then we threaded the twine on one side of the plants, around the opposite t-post (again at 10 inches or so), then back around on the other side of the tomato plants, and then secured the twine with a knot at the original t-post. We were careful to make sure the key stalks of each plant were looped inside the string. You end up with a sort of double figure-eight. That’s all we did for that string of tomatoes. Later if and when they continue to grow, we will add a loop of twine every 8-10 inches until the tomatoes stop growing or until we reach the top of the post.

If we are so fortunate as to get this staking idea to work, it will be simpler to implement than cages, and it will also be easier to dismantle at season’s end. And it will also be easier to store during the off season. Much easier to stack up 10+ t-posts on pallet rack than to keep up with 20+ steel cages!

The video couldn’t be more rudimentary, and YouTube really crushes the video quality, but it does show how we did it if you’re interested. That’s the squash behind me as I’m driving the second t-post and the corn behind me as I’m stringing the twine.

If this staking works as we hope, we need to be more anal retentive about planting the tomatoes in rows to use the posts efficiently and to avoid bruising the plants. We plan now to be using raised beds formed from concrete blocks, so our plan now is to place four plants side by side in each row, then sink a post on either side of the bed (with the t-post snuggled up to the inside of the void in the concrete block for additional bracing against the tension of the twine and the plants) and perhaps one post in the middle. That would give us two plants looped together between each post.

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