Guest Rant by Rebecca Caley
The tomato plants are so thick and sturdy, nothing can bring them down. That’s their story and they’re sticking to it. Never trust a tomato. Their goal is to reproduce by getting rotten tomatoes on the ground. They will fight the trellis, the cage, gravity. They will win.
Don’t engineers grow tomatoes? In the hundreds of years tomatoes have been cultivated, the standard support is still an upside-down wire cone?!
Isn’t there some principle about a wide base being most stable? I’m thinking Jabba the Hutt or the Sphinx, wide on the bottom. You never see them fall over, right?
I found a square, fat-bottom tomato cage at a hardware store four years ago. Fat-bottom tomato cage, you make the rockin’ world go round! It even has an open side. We can pretend that’s for reaching in to pick the fruit more easily, but we all know it’s for cramming those plants in when you have waited too long to cage them. It’s beautifully painted with no sharp corners. But it’s kinda small. There must be a step I missed between just learning to grow, and tomatoes crushing me like a Hoarder. This well-designed little cage is for posers. They have a back room at the hardware store where they keep the hard-core stuff.
The lack of positive reinforcement after all my tomato supporting effort just sucks my motivation like the last Red Lobster biscuit. I feel like I’m voting for President – Are these really the only choices?
So I consulted with the world wide oracle of knowledge: the internet. What surprises! People building sturdy wooden trellises that look like…my kids’ toy teepees?
Going to have to try that!
In the back of my mind, probably because I have a repressed memory attached, is the idea that a large piece of big-weave fencing can be set in an arch beside the tomato plant. The tomato plant leans on the fencing, creating a shady tunnel with easy access to unlimited, tasty garden jewels. In my zone this is called Black Widow Heaven. It might work in Alaska or Wisconsin or someplace with cold winters. In Georgia you will need to wear long sleeves, gloves and take a shower after your heat stroke.
Engineers that grow tomato plants probably stake them so efficiently and in such a timely manner that the method is of little importance. I flunked out of engineer school. My tomatoes have always been in the back of the class with their heads down trying not to be seen. They never needed staking. I probably should have paid more attention in statics. Or dynamics. Or physics, calculus, differential equations…anything.
This year’s perfect tomato storm is sending me flashbacks of all the tomato-tying failures in this life and past lives. I am less inclined to try to save the tomatoes and more inclined to eat ice cream, which requires no trellis.
I’ve found multiple directions for DIY cages made from fencing that all bear an awesome resemblance to the giant Kerplunk game on This Old House website.
So far, I have pounded five pallet boards around six of my 150 tomato plants. Then I ran twine this way and that until it looked like the booby trap my son built that took down every adult in our family. Sorry, Granny. You needed that hip replacement years ago.
I sank three ‘rustic’ wire tomato cages as deeply as possible around four pathetic tomato plants that couldn’t fight back.
What incredible salesmanship to convince so many people that these wire contraptions would work! My little boy described how the whole thing is going to topple like a fallen tree in a storm. Right after he explained why the snake in the chicken coop must be pregnant.
I’m searching for something more sophisticated than the empty potting soil bag I usually shove under the plants when they fall, but something more stable than a toy top. I’m sure you have some suggestions. Please leave them below.
Rebecca Caley started selling plants as a child and opened her first garden center in coastal South Carolina at age 23 – just last year! (Give or take a couple decades.) She now lives outside of Atlanta. She has twin boys, 3 cats, 9 chickens and an 8 foot black rat snake, but it’s just squatting.