Easy Tomatoes

I guess you could say I’m a lazy gardener. I’m always looking for the easiest way to grow more fruits and vegetables, while spending less time doing it. You see, as much as I enjoy gardening, sometimes there are other things I would rather be doing. When it comes to growing tomatoes I definitely like to take the easy route. I’ve tried all sorts of different methods for growing and supporting tomatoes over the years, but my current favorite way is to cage them, using cages made of concrete reinforcing mesh.

early planted caged tomatoes (click on any image to enlarge)

These days I make the cages big – about 22 inches in diameter, and plant two tomatoes in each cage. I’ve found that the two tomatoes do a better job of filling out the cage, and they also seem to be more productive. Since I raise all my plants from seed, the cost of the extra plants is minimal.

I mulch around all the cages while the plants are still small. I used black planters mulch on the early planted cages. The jury is still out on whether the black paper warms the soil enough to justify the cost, but since I have a lot of it left I will continue to use it until it’s gone. It is somewhat difficult to work with, since you have to roll it out then plant the tomatoes through slits you cut in the paper. But it does hold up well throughout the season.

caged tomatoes with straw and paper mulch

I much prefer using newspaper for mulch. It’s cheap, for one thing, and you can spread the sheets out around the tomatoes after they are planted, which makes it easier to deal with than the planters paper. Once the papers are placed like I want them, I “spear” them with the tomato cages so they stay in place. In the main garden, I have two rows of tomatoes planted with straw covered paper between the rows.

I do very little to the caged tomatoes other than to “work” the cages every few days to keep the vines inside the mesh. I don’t sucker them, and I don’t prune them. I do feed them periodically with a slow release organic tomato fertilizer, and I give them a drink of fish emulsion occasionally as well.

Since I started mulching all my tomatoes, I rarely have blossom end rot (BER) problems. The soils in our area generally have plenty of calcium, and as long as the PH is not out of whack the mulching prevents the fluctuations in soil moisture that can bring on BER. Mulching also helps prevent soil borne diseases from getting on the tomato leaves.

tomatoes near the top of the cages

The early planted tomatoes are racing to the top of their cages already. We’re still waiting for the first ripe one, but it won’t be much longer. The tomatoes in the main garden were planted about two weeks later, and most of them are more than halfway up the cages. All are looking good so far, with no signs of disease or pest problems. I generally do not spray my tomato plants with anything unless an insect problem develops, like tobacco hornworms. The hornworms were bad at the church garden last year, so I sprayed with Bt which quickly got them under control. So far they haven’t been a problem at HA, but I will certainly be on the watch for them.

tomatoes about 4 weeks after planting

I do have about eight determinate tomato plants that I will be supporting with the stake and weave (aka Florida Weave) support system again this year. They are mostly short vine paste varieties, and I think the cages don’t really support them very well. I will write more about that method later in the season. We have about 50 tomato plants at the church garden and we will be using the stake and weave method there exclusively.

Sidd relaxing on the porch

So that’s all I have to say about tomatoes, and my “easy” way of growing them. With any luck, I’ll get to spend some time like Sidd this summer – taking it easy on the porch. At least that’s my plan!



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11 Responses to Easy Tomatoes

  1. Deb says:

    I’m looking forward to your stake and weave post for the indeterminates. I’m using the same wire mesh as you for all my tomatoes, but the indies are popping out the top fast!

  2. We have very similar philosophies on tomato gardening. We usually get too busy to prune and primp, so we plant, and water, and feed, and wait for scrumptious fruits. We’re using straw as mulch, as we have plenty here. I haven’t tried using paper. We do plant two per cage though, often in pairs of the same variety. We found some ago that some varieties seem to yield more fruit when bunked with a buddy. We’re growing paste varieties for the first time this year, so we’ll have to see how the cages work out this season. I can’t wait for tomato (and basil) season to kick into high gear!

  3. Robin says:

    I don’t trim the suckers out either. I usually trim a little at the bottom of the plants and remove some leaves here and there to give them some air.

    Your plants look great….very happy and healthy!

  4. Mike says:

    Those are nice cages Dave, we try to do somthing similar with field fencing. I Found your thoughts on BER to be very interesting and something I had not thought about. We grow a Belgian Heart tomato that sometimes has this issue and I think I will mulch those later in the year after the soil has warmed…thanks for the tip.

  5. Ali says:

    Your tomatoes look great! Mine are coming along now, I think the IRT mulch makes a big difference for me given my cooler climate. I did learn the hard way I need to put the cages in place after planting, but no real harm done. Most of the tomatoes have grown straight up, but the Juliets are all wiggly and falling all over each other — hope that doesn’t make them prone to disease.

    I am pretty certain that mulching solved my BER problems, and reduced fungal disease spread by soil splash back. I love the cages and am so glad you shared your method. I hope we have a bountiful crop this year.

  6. Mike R says:

    For indeterminates the remesh cages can’t be beat. I bought some at Menards several years ago to make cages. It must have been galvanized as they have been out in the weather all this time with no sign of rust. This spring I looked for more remesh for cages and all of it was totally rusted. I drove in two 6′ steel fence posts for each cage and hung the cage on the hooks on the posts so the bottom of the cage is about a foot and a half above ground. The spacing between the remesh wires and the post hooks is the same so they hook very securely.

  7. Wow! Your tomato plants look great! We’re still waiting for the sun here in the Pacific NW!!

  8. LynnS says:

    Dave your tomato plants are very healthy looking — keep on pretending you’re lazy! 😉

    We also use the mesh to make tomato cages and even use them for our cucumbers to vine with. I’ve never tried using commercial mulching paper but I’ll keep the suggestion filed away. This year with all of the rain, we have loads of grassy mulch but also use straw, wood, and leaf mulch. I save cardboard to use in aisles but we’re short on newspapers since we don’t subscribe to any.

    Last year we had about a dozen hornworms — first time ever. I handpicked them and would look for the eggs to destroy. Not sure if we’ll have them this year but I’ll be watching. Chickens LOVE hornworms! 🙂

  9. Those cages are great. I ran out of the cages that you can get at the local hardware store and so built a few myself out of leftover metal “garden fencing” that I had used for building mulch / compost bins. Unfortunately the mesh is too small (2×3″) – I definitely needed something with a bigger mesh, like yours has. But it did the trick temporarily until I was able to very carefully replace them with tomato cages. I will definitely be getting some concrete reinforcing mesh for next year, though – I like the support provided by the type of cage you’ve created.

    I always used to use the newspaper + mulch technique when I planted my mom’s garden each year…she can’t take care of it and I don’t get home often enough to weed, so it was a great solution. The few weeds that managed to live and get through were large enough to be fully pulled out by the time I’d get home for a visit.

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