Tomato cages have become a staple in the American vegetable garden. Not only do they help to keep tomato fruit from rotting on the ground but they also protect the plant from breakage and save space. However, it wasn't that long ago that the American green thumb-enthusiast had never heard of such a devise. This garden tool has grown from being a make-at-home commodity to infomercial plunder to its current-day status as a garden center staple.
Make Your Own
In the early 1980s, extension agents across the United States began spreading the word that tomatoes could be grown using wire cages for better support. General guidelines to produce a tomato cage at home included cutting a 5- to 6-foot piece of industrial-strength wire, bending it into a circular form and tying the ends. These cages resembled small barrels and were placed over the top of the tomato plants.
By 1987, Andrew Correll of Virginia had patented the first commercial tomato cage. Correll, a retired toolmaker, had designed the tomato cage to address difficulties he had had with his cherry tomato plants. According to a the Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper article published at the time, Correll had problems keeping his tomato plants off the ground and the standard wooden stakes wouldn't do. Correll began looking for a manufacturer to mass produce his design and sell the product nationwide.
By the 1990s, there were more than 10 different manufacturers of tomato cages. Most were renditions of Correll's original design. However, some alterations were made including the inverted cone shape that has become the standard today.
Although tomato cages have become a home-gardening standard, the also have gained a bad reputation for being flimsy and not being able to withstand wind and heavily laden tomato vines. Standard tomato cages purchased in most garden-supply stores are made from lightweight wire or plastic. In some cases, the wires fall down after a storm or under the weight of the plants. In addition, the wire has a tendency to cut or break the branches of tomato plant.
To accommodate heavily fruited tomato plants as well as to prevent wind or storm damage, a number of gardeners recommend using rebar or a heavy-duty stake to hold the cage in place. In addition, many gardeners have gone back to making their own cages using heavier wire and other materials such as wood and even chicken wire.