Tag Archives: tomato cages

How to Plant Tomatoes

The Snarky Gardener shows you how to plant tomatoes
Beefsteak Tomato ready to be planted

With spring looking to summer, thoughts turn to planting frost sensitive tomatoes. The best time to put these little guys into the ground is when the soil has warmed up and all chance of frost has passed. Of course, one cannot tell the future, but mid-May on is generally considered safe. If you do plant and then there is a freeze or frost warning, covering the plants with straw/leaf mulch or blankets should give them enough protection.

River digging tomato plant holes
Hole dug and ready for planting

Tomatoes are special in that their stems will grow roots if they come in contact with soil, so dig down enough to cover the stem up to the first set of true leaves.  This will allow the tomato to receive all the water and nutrients it needs.  Plus it will be easier to cover them if the weather turns cold (being shorter and all).  I usually dig my holes ahead of time and plant either on a cloudy day or in the evening so not to stress them.

As you can see above, I use the “Terrier” digging method, but you can also use a shovel, Before placing your plant in the hole, you may want to add some extra fertilizer or other materials to the hole.  Some experts recommend adding Epsom salts as they contain magnesium and sulfate.  Others recommend egg shells with their needed calcium.  I tend to use “dynamic accumulators” – plants that collect and store minerals.  My favorites are comfrey (pictured below), dandelions, and mustard greens.  I just remove the leaves I need and bury them.

Comfrey – a dynamic accumulator
Tomato planted so first true leaves are almost touching the ground

Once planted and watered, you should add some support, whether it be a tomato cage, fence, or stake.  Some tomatoes (called determinate) don’t need much as they only get a few feet tall (like Roma for example).  Putting in support now means you won’t be piercing roots later as the plant matures.  As you can see below, I make my own cages out of steel fencing.  These totally surround the plant and are 6 feet tall, providing support for most varieties of indeterminate tomatoes.  The other positive of this system is that peas can be grown up the cages to give more food production plus nitrogen fixing for future crops.

Cage around the tomato plant
Cage around the tomato plant

One other technique I stumbled upon is to grow tomatoes on the north side of an east-west steel fence (behind the caged tomato in the above picture).  As the plants grow up, I weave the branches in and out of the wire, thus eliminating the need to use ropes or other bindings to keep the plant from falling over.

Tomato plant later in the season


Tomato and Basil Time!

With spring in full force, my thoughts have turned to tomatoes and basil starts as I’ve been trading and selling them.  The Kent Community TimeBank has given me an outlet for them where I don’t need to worry about the exchange of money.  The truth of the matter is plant starts represent mostly time as they have to be treated like infants so the KCTB seems to be appropriate.  The basil has been more popular than I would have ever imagined, so I’ll make an effort next year to produce more.

On 5/12/2013, I attended the Foods Not Lawns Cleveland plant swap.  I traded 4 tomato starts (1 Mega Cherry cutting from my AeroGarden and 3 Sweet 100 Cherry starts).  In return, I received two Chocolate Cherry tomatoes, two Long Purple eggplants, and a whole bunch of comfrey plants.  Comfrey is useful as a nutrient mulch because it accumulates minerals well.  Just chop it down a few times a year and put the leaves in your compost or around your heavy feeders (tomatoes, corn, broccoli, etc).  Who needs to buy chemical fertilizer?  Not this Snarky Gardener.

The AeroGardens have been producing well, giving me Jalapeno peppers, basil, cutting celery, parsley, and tomato cuttings (for starts).  The Mega Cherry tomatoes are just getting ripe, and will be eaten seconds after they are ready.  I will be saving the seeds from the red pepper to see if I can get them to grow.  Practice makes perfect when it comes to seed saving.  I tried to save the seeds from a green one, but they never spouted.  I should have better luck with the riper Jalapeno.

Mega Cherry tomatoes – 5/7/2013
Jalapeno peppers and Thai basil – 5/7/2013

Of course, with all these starts running around, I planted 6 in late April and early May to get some from under my feet (even with a chance of frost still possible).  This chance became reality on 5/13/2013 and 5/14/2013 as temperatures fell into to low 30’s overnight.  Overturned pots became makeshift protectors inside the steel fence tomato cages.  I did lose one Sweet 100 Cherry tomato plant as the pot I covered it with was too thin and holey.   Luckily I have more plants where that came from.

On 5/12/2013, the first of the potato leaves poked their heads out (and were promptly frosted).  I’ve been checking on them from time to time, finding a few that turned rotten.  I’m not sure if this was caused by using the leaf mulch (it’s pretty wet in places) or the potatoes themselves, but I pulled any that didn’t look good.  Fortunately the Snarky Gardener is smart enough to have extra potatoes that he didn’t plant the first time, so those will fill in any open spots.

Potatoes sprouting up from leaf mulch – 5/12/2013
Potatoes coming up by my kale – 5/17/2013

Spring has sprung!

After several days of warmer weather (70’s) and rain in the middle of April, my garden finally started jumping up.  The spinach I had planted in March under 2-liter bottles have spouted.  My Oregon Snow Peas are also popping out of the ground (I thought they were goners with the long cold early spring).  But the real surprise was my overwintered Red Russian kale.  I even took them off my garden plan as they didn’t look good in late February and early March.  With the warm sun and then rain, they have really perked up.

Red Russian kale – 4/13/2013
Spinach sprouts among the leaves – 4/13/2013

It also looks like I’ll be collecting Seven Top turnip seeds as they are sending up flowers.  I let them go last fall thinking I could eat them this spring but forgot all about whole biannual thing.  I had enough greens to eat one meal, but I’ll let the plants use the rest of their strength to make babies.

Seven Top Turnip Greens going to seed – 4/27/2013
Seven Top Turnip Greens going to seed – 4/27/2013
Seven Top Turnip Greens going to seed – 4/27/2013

On 4/27/2013, I planted the first of my many tomato plants (four Sweet 100 Cherry plants) inside the cages in “Tomato Row”.  I’m a little early (or am I?) but the 10-day forecast looked good plus they were getting root bound. I also planted the only mini pepper that grew from the seeds I started (sigh). I have a pepper-producing AeroGarden mini Jalapeno that I may plant outside plus a mystery pepper I received from Amishland Seeds with my Amish Paste tomato seeds.  And I have a plant swap with Food Not Lawns Cleveland in a few weeks, so hopefully my pepper population will be increased over this one lonely plant.

Full garden view taken from the south – 4/27/2013
Caged Sweet 100 Cherry Tomatoes and Sugar Snap Peas – 5/4/2013
Planted Fenced Backyard Garden Plan- 4/30/2013

In April, I joined the Kent Community TimeBank.  The KCTB is an organization that allows for the trading of services between community members using a simple yet cool website.  So far I’ve given 2 hours of weeding to one member and received strawberry plants (which I planted in the northwest corner on 4/27) and compost from two other members.  The time bank allows me to use my gardening talents in the local community while receiving other valuable services (I’m looking at you, dog groomers, graphic designers, and equipment renters).  The best part is I’m getting in better physical shape without those pesky gym memberships.

Strawberry plants a Kent Community TimeBank member delivered on 4/27/2013

Fenced Backyard Garden Update – 3/31/2013

Fenced Backyard Garden as of 3/31/2013

March has been a cold and dry month. I was hoping to have more in place by now, but my houseful of starts means April should be busy. Last weekend did give me the opportunity prep the tomato/pea cages and the pea/corn mounds.  The corn mounds are my version of a Three Sisters Garden with early bush peas replacing the pole beans.  I could also go with climbing peas but then I would have needed to plant those after the corn had been planting (timing is everything).  Also, it’s official – the rosemary is dead as it didn’t overwinter.  But I did find rosemary arp at a local garden center, which is supposed to be perennial in Northeast Ohio (fingers crossed for luck).

The Snarky Gardener will be direct sowing in the next week.  Included will be kale (Toscano and Red Russian), kohlrabi, Swiss chard, lettuce, and peas (bush and climbing).  Leeks, kale, spinach and lavender will be transplanted from hardened off starts.

Snarky Gardener definition:
“Hardening off” means taking your starts outside more and more over time to get them acclimated to the outside world.  All the wind, sunshine, and temperature swings take some getting used to for your little ones.

Homemade tomato and pea cage
“Tomato Row” with WinterSown milk cartons and 2 liter bottles in the background. 3/31/2013
Fenced Backyard Garden Plan for April as of 4/2/2013

Steel Fence Tomato and Pea Cages

The Snarky Gardener spent the weekend raking leaf mulch and digging holes.  In preparation for climbing peas and tomatoes, I brought out the tomato cages I “built” last year. Two years ago I purchased 150 feet of 60″ tall steel fencing (to protect my garden from critters).  50′ + 50′ + 20′ + 20′ (50′ X 20′ garden) equaled 140 feet of needed fence with 10 feet leftover.  Last year, I had an eureka moment and decided to use the extra as a tomato cage as I hadn’t had much luck with store bought ones. Plus the fencing looked a lot like the pea netting I had seen on the Internet. So I curled the fence around like a giant C, buried it into the ground about 6 inches, put dirt over it to hold it down, and planted peas around it. After it worked so well, I ended up buying another 50 feet and cutting 6 more 4 to 5 foot sections (leaving 20 feet to increase my 50′ X 20′ to 50′ X 30′ this year). Did I mention the SG uses math all the time at his day job?

Homemade tomato and pea cages – 3/31/2013

So this spring I raked open 6 spots (pant, pant, pant) and broke ground on “tomato row”. This area was brand new and untilled, so I had to bring out “Big Blue”, my broadfork purchased from the Valley Oak Tool Company.  Weighing in at 18 pounds, it’s a solid piece of equipment and easy to use (though it would have been easier if SG was in better shape).  I was thinking of taking pictures or video of me actually using it, but thought the video on the Valley Oak site would do the trick.  Next week I’ll be planting climbing snow peas around each cage.  Last year none of the experimental peas made it back into the house as I’m a grazer but 6 times as many hopefully means some for everyone else.

Breaking up the soil with my broadfork “Big Blue” – 3/30/2013
“Big Blue” taking a break – 3/30/2013
Tomato cage buried in place – 3/30/2013
Interlocking the top for stability – 3/30/2013
Tomato cages with too much mulch piled up behind them – 3/30/2013
“Tomato Row” – 3/30/2013
Caged Sweet 100 Cherry Tomato plant and Peas – 5/4/2013
Caged Tomatoes and Peas – 5/4/2013
Sylvia’s Amish Low Acid Red tomatoes – 6/17/2013
Sylvia’s Amish Low Acid Red tomatoes – 7/4/2013