Staking Tomatoes with Concrete Reinforcing Mesh

For years we’ve been using concrete reinforcing mesh to stake our tomatoes. It’s a 6-inch square grid of wire and is used to reinforce concrete slabs. I buy it in 3 1/2-feet by 7-feet sections at my local home improvement center. To make a tomato cage with it you find a flat stretch of patio or driveway and bend the wire into a tube. I overlap it a bit and tie it together with wire.

This year, thanks to a tip from Craig Ruggless, I decided to double the height of the cages using two per plant to make them 7-feet high. As the plant grows, you simply tuck the vines into the cage, with no pruning necessary. But you do have to stay on top of the tucking, otherwise you risk breaking off stems. Since a 7-foot cage can be very top heavy I staked them deep into the ground with some rebar I had laying around. Long wooden stakes would work just as well. You could also choose to grow shorter tomato varieties. The San Marzano tomatoes in the middle of the picture above are half the height of the other two and way more productive.

Another staking option is to buy Texas Tomato Cages for $99 for six 24-inch by 6-foot cages. The advantage with the Texas cages is that they fold flat when not in use. The disadvantage is the price. If you buy your concrete reinforcing mesh in bulk, on long rolls, the price would be significantly less than the Texas Cages and I think reinforcing wire is just as attractive if rolled carefully.

I would avoid the tiny, flimsy conical cages I’ve seen for sale at most nurseries as almost every tomato plant will easily outgrow them and stems will break as they spill over the top.

For a roundup tomato staking techniques see the Santa Clara County Master Gardeners website.

And leave some comments about your favorite staking and/or pruning methods.

End of Season Tomato Review

Homegrown Evolution had ambitious plans to review each and every tomato variety out of the garden this year, but alas, we fell behind in our bloggulating duties and planted way too many tomatoes. So here, as “winter” appears in Southern California (it’s raining, that’s how you tell), we’ll review what worked and what didn’t work.

The tastiest tomato award goes to the Pineapple variety pictured above. Not only did this heirloom tomato have the best flavor, it was also the prettiest tomato we’ve ever grown, a brilliant yellow with streaks of red in the middle of the fruit when you slice it. And they’re just about as big as a Cadillac Escalade. We saved some seeds and will definitely be growing these again next year.


The most productive, trouble free and productive tomatoes this year were plain old Romas and San Marzanos, both of which provided a summer of tomato sauce and enough extra fruit to do some canning. Two hybrid cherry tomatoes we grew in self watering containers, Sun Gold and Sweet 100 also did well. The Romas have the additional benefit of being fusarium wilt and verticillium resistant. It may be organic gardening heresy to say this, but hybrid tomatoes such as Roma are the best varieties for beginning gardeners to grow due to their trouble free and disease resistant qualities. The down side is that you can’t save the seeds.

We also grew Syrian Giants, but unfortunately our Doberman Pincher ate most of them on late night raids. Perhaps because the Syrians grew in less than ideal partial shade conditions, they weren’t that tasty. See also our earlier reviews of Banana Leg and Red Currant varieties.

Most of the tomatoes were grown in cages made from concrete reinforcing wire (instructions on making tomato cages here) in raised beds with a drip irrigation system as pictured above. As an experiment for folks in apartments or with limited space, we grew a bunch of tomatoes in self watering containers on a strip of concrete next to the back wall of our garage (note crappy picture below). You’ll see that we were too lazy to put the container tomatoes in cages–don’t do this as you’ll have a sprawling ugly mess! Nevertheless, the containers worked.

So readers, leave some comments! Tell us your favorite tomatoes this season. Weigh in on the heirloom vs. hybrid issue. We’re sure that forward thinking folks planning seed purchases for the spring would appreciate the advice.

Vegetable Gardening With Dogs

We love all dogs and live with an elderly Doberman Pincher. But gardening with dogs can definitely have its challenges, especially when your trusted companion has a taste for heirloom tomatoes. On the right, the aftermath of one of our dog’s nightly tomato raids, this time targeting our healthiest and most productive vine, a variety called Giant Syrian. The dog has managed to claim all but a few of the tomatoes off this vine, knocking off many unripe ones in the process. FYI, the Giant Syrian tomato is our favorite variety this year, producing large, flavorful and meaty fruit. Hopefully the Doberman will leave a few for us. [Update: an alert reader has pointed out that tomatoes are toxic to canines. The ASPCA says that the green parts are toxic, but others claim that both the ripe and unripe fruit are also a problem.]

On the subject of tomatoes, here’s a very beautiful and useful website with pictures and descriptions of many heirloom tomato and vegetable varieties: the Heirloom Vegetable Archive.

Tomato Review #2 Banana Legs – it don’t look like a banana and it don’t got legs

It’s raining tomatoes here at the Homegrown Evolution compound and time for the second in our series of tomato reviews. Today, Banana Legs, a determinate variety with yellow flesh and light green streaks. It has a mild, low acid flavor and a meaty texture. Not bad, not thrilling, not nearly is as good as a similar looking tomato we grew last year, Power’s Heirloom.

We grew our Banana Legs in a self watering container (SWC) and it produced a respectable amount of fruit. With a sunny balcony, folks in apartments could do the same. For our container we used a repurposed storage bin and we’d recommend the largest container you can find for tomatoes or sticking to tomato varieties specifically bred for containers. As soon as the large root system of a tomato plant gets down into the water reservoir at the bottom of an SWC you can get some leaf curl. This did not seem to reduce the output of our plant, but it was somewhat ugly looking. We also made the dumb, lazy mistake of not caging the plant and it sprawled helplessly over the sides of the planter, probably reducing our yield. Here’s the way we normally cage our tomatoes when we’re not too busy blogging. You can also check out Bruce F’s nice staking system for his rooftop garden in Chicago.

Verdict: we gotta get some of those Power’s Heirloom seeds next season, but I’ll save a few of the Banana Legs seeds for the sake of variety.

Tomato Review #1 Red Currant–The World’s Smallest Tomato

Due to poor planning in our garden this year we’ve had a bit of a “need to get produce at the supermarket” gap. Ironically, the first bit of homegrown produce to appear this summer came in the form of what we’re calling the world’s smallest tomato: an heirloom variety Mrs. Homegrown Evolution picked up at this year’s Tomato Mania sale called Red Currant (Solanum pimpinellifolium). This is a domesticated version of wild tomato plants originating in Mexico, and produces fruit measuring about one centimeter across. Red Currant is an indeterminate tomato, with a delicious, sweet taste. A malfunctioning drip line has has meant that our specimen probably did not get enough water, but nevertheless it has managed to produce fruit despite looking unhappy. If we had more than the paltry number we’ve produced, they’d make for a tasty addition to a salad. That malfunctioning drip line means that all we have is enough for the world’s smallest BLT. If only we could find a pig the size of a cellphone.

How to Stake Tomatoes

Our tomato staking method around the Homegrown Evolution compound is simple and lazy. We plant our tomatoes and then surround them with rolled up concrete reinforcing wire. Normally used to reinforce concrete slabs, reinforcing wire comes in 3 1/2′ by 7′ sections. We use a circular saw with a metal blade on it to cut off the bottom rung, so as to leave spiky wires with which to stick the reinforcing wire tubes into the ground, but this is not absolutely necessary.

Once in place that’s it. According to So Cal gardening guru Pat Welsh, tomatoes surrounded by a reinforcing wire staking system need not be pruned nor will they need any additional staking.

Over time the reinforcing wire rusts lending the garden a certain deconstructed vibe.

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