Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tomato Cages

November is the month when true gardeners hide their secrets. Somewhere in the home, hidden away, diehard gardeners have a stack of books full of details about how to improve their craft. With luck, next years produce will out due their every dream. Longing for the warm weather, eager gardeners fantasize about squash and pumpkins, cucumbers and zucchini, onions and tomatoes. Tomatoes. The friendliest vegetable in the garden, eager to impress the newest converts to the fertile soil and anxious to thwart the most seasoned veterans. Tomatoes judge no man, no woman. The bear fruit for all. Tomatoes have no favorites. They can always produce more if a devoted gardener knows how to speak their language.

Growing healthy, vibrant tomato plants takes a level of planning of which many gardeners are unaware. As the plants grow tall, most people are familiar with the idea that their vines will need tomato cages. However, many people do not how much support is too much and how much is not enough. Discerning the right fit for a tomato cage requires an understanding of these plants and how they grow. The tomato, though not technically a vine, is often referred to as one. It is referred to this way because without a support system, the stalks become too heavy as fruit ripens. Eventually the plant will sprawl out on the ground leaving the tomatoes susceptible to predation.

Protecting tomato plants from having their buds eaten and the fruit destroyed requires a gardener to cage the plant. The cage system helps to keep the stalks upright and gives each branch a place to rest as large buds blooms at its tips. If a cage is too tight, the fruit bearing is dwarfed. If the cage is too loose, plants may grow in girth and neglect to produce high quantities of fruit. In order to keep the plant producing, gardeners need to construct cages for their plants. Plants that bear large fruits, such as Beefsteak Tomatoes, benefit from wide rimmed, upright cages. Smaller fruit producing plants such as Cherry Tomato varietals thrive with narrow, diagonally staked cages.

Every tomato plant will grow tall. With the right soil balance, they will produce plentiful supplies of ripe fruit. Because of this, many gardeners will never realize that they may be suffocating the full potential of the plant. If gardeners want to stop hindering their plant’s growth, they can make an effort to supply the plants with proper caging for maximum production. One technique that works well for ambitious gardeners is to custom design expandable cages.

Expandable cages are easy to build. Gardeners can go to a local hardware store and purchase a roll of tall caging wire. They should then cut the wire—using tin-snips—into six to eight foot lengths leaving the excess of the cut end free. The excess tail on the cut edge can be used to secure the cage to itself. In the beginning of the year, when a plant is small, the cage should be secured in a small loop with the leftover material hanging away. As the plant grows, gardeners can continue to increase the width of the cage to encourage radial growth.

The process of expanding custom made tomato cages will help plants to grow wide, tall and strong. Many more stalks will shoot up from the ground if a plant is allowed the space, while a great deal of fruit will be produced with the support of the caging wire. If gardeners still want a wider base, they can clip the first round of fruiting buds. This will encourage the plant to root more deeply and send more stalks through the soil.

It may be a long while yet, until the fruits of spring can be buried in soft soil, but dreaming of next year’s garden is to be expected. In the hopes of a hard freeze to replenish the soil, gardeners bundle up with jackets and mittens and walk the rows of the ground that lays fallow, eagerly waiting for April’s warm welcome.

About the Author
Jody Sperling is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club. Enter the word article in the referral code box and receive a 50% discount on the price of any membership.

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