I’m using two different systems of supporting tomatoes here this year. For the majority of the plants I’m using cages I made from 5ft tall concrete reinforcing wire. The cages are all either 22 or 24 inches diameter (72 inch or 78 inch circumference). The cost per cage in 2008 was about $5, and they should easily last 10 years or more.
The openings in these cages are 6 inches square, which makes it very easy to get even the biggest tomatoes out. Also, you can use any opening to get your hand/arm into the interior, which comes in handy for small fruited varieties like this Sun Gold that will have tomatoes everywhere.
In the photo below there are two cages shown, with Sweet Baby Girl on the left and Sun Gold on the right. They are growing out the top of the cages, and it is time to prune the ends of the vines. That is the only pruning I do on the caged tomatoes. Every few days I work the vines to make sure they are staying inside the cages. If a shoot escapes I try and work it back into the cage without breaking it. If I can’t, I pinch it off.
For me, growing them in cages is the easiest method I have found. The yields can be very high, and the fruits are protected from sunscald and cracking. However, the tomatoes will be somewhat later to ripen when grown this way, plus there is the need to store the cages somewhere. I usually just leave them in the garden spot all year. But it’s not good to use these cages on short determinate varieties, since they tend to not be supported very well and end up mostly on the ground. That led me to explore other training methods.
The other method I’m using this year is the stake and weave system. I’m using this on 7 paste tomato plants. These are a mix of both indeterminate growers like Big Mama, Amish Paste and San Marzano and determinate varieties like Health Kick and Viva Italia.
I’ve got three metal t-posts sunk in the ground at 8 foot intervals to hold the vines. Between the metal posts I have two 5/8″ diameter bamboo stakes. I’ve run plastic baler twine down the row three times so far, with the first run about 8-10 inches from the ground and the others about 6 inches apart. The bamboo stake isn’t supporting much weight, and the twine doesn’t grip it very well, but it’s what I had available. Wooden stakes or even lengths of concrete rebar driven into the ground are good choices for this method. I’ll probably buy a few pieces of rebar for next year.
This system results in earlier fruit, but sunscald can be a problem. Also, it will be difficult to remove the metal posts at the end of the season. I rotate the crops in the vegetable garden, so I can’t just leave it in place.
So, the jury is still out on how successful this system will be when all factors are taken into consideration. I’ve never really liked tying tomato vines to individual stakes, so the stake and weave method is an interesting alternative. We used this method successfully at our MG vegetable garden last year where it was used to support about half the tomatoes (the other half being caged). The proof is in the pudding as the saying goes, or in this case it will be in the tomato sauce!