Sunday, June 10, 2012

Dad's DIY Tomato Cages

If there's one thing that makes me want to spit in someone's hair right now, it would have to be her garden. Any garden. Any girl. I don't have a garden this summer and she does and you know what? Wah. Or, as Silas would say, "Thas not fear."

The good news is, I'll probably survive, though I have said time and time again that I do my best thinking whilst weed-pulling and eyebrow-plucking, so here's to hoping my follicles kick it turbo-style, or we've got a long, senseless, disjointed summer ahead of us.

A year from now, I'll be rocking an urban garden of some kind.

Until then? I've got my Dad.

Growing up, we had a big ol' patch of dirt, with just enough rows of corn. We'd fight the weeds on a battlefield as dry as it was unforgiving. Wasn't nothing pretty about it.

It was bare bones, maybe even a little crude. It kept us out until the hazy air fell down around our shoulders and the dark closed in. We'd find our way inside where Mom would fry chicken patties to the tune of crickets.

Mustard and pickle chips, kitchen curtains hanging lank in a breeze-less window. That's just one verse of my childhood summers.

That garden, it was just fine. It grew bushels of beans and memories. It taught us some things about work and making do.

But I guess what I'm trying to say is, it didn't look anything like this. It was no Secret Garden. I never skipped around in the sweet peas.

Over recent years, Dad has ramped it up twenty-odd notches. Now, come late winter, he mobilizes a gargantuan indoor tiered greenhouse system that he designed and constructed himself. It's really quite a spectacle. He orders heirloom seeds and the tiny pots made of cow crud. He researches and mixes and concocts and tweaks. He tells us all about it.

When the earth is ready, the seedlings hunker down in beautiful raised boxes full of soil so fluffy, it's probably hand-whisked.

(I would not put it past him.)

And by late May (at least this year) he's pulling carrots and stewing over beets that are almost too big for their britches.

Last time I was there, three different people stopped by to check out his cages.

"I was told I'd better come look at his cages."
"She said I needed to come and see the cages."

Cages, cages, cages! (Love you forever, Jan Brady.)

Of course I had to nose on in and have a look.

The legendary cages were sturdy and straight. None of the shiftless wonkery I've always dealt with. 

That they caught the light so beautifully was really just an afterthought.

So, if your Mr. Stripey always ends up sad and forlorn, his cage all askew, his cheeks in the mud, the Dwight Garber tomato cage just might be for you.

He tells me they're easy to make, the supplies are readily available, and they'll last, in his words, "Forever!" 

Here's the skinny:

* Galvanized solid lock fixed-knot 12.5 gauge fencing wire (for one 19" diameter cage, you will need 65" of fencing) Dad's fencing has 6" spacing, which he believes to be ideal for reaching in and tending to the soil. He found his fencing through a local fencing company, but it is also readily available online (just Google the entire description and it will come up). Fencing should run around $1/foot (which translates to about $5/cage).

* 4" plastic zip-ties (8" were found to be too inflexible to work with) Any hardware store will carry these.

* Bolt cutters

Roll out your fencing, weighting the corners so it doesn't roll back up, and measure off 65". Cut as close to a fixed knot as possible with bolt cutters. Remove all wire "tails" so that you have knots at both ends, all the way down. Curl your fencing around and stack the knots together, the secure with a zip tie at each knot.

When cages are assembled and placed over plants, Dad suggests using velcro ties or zip ties to temporarily (just for the season) securing four cages together for added stability. If you do not plan to have several cages close together, you will want to stake your cage for extra stability.

Congratulations! You will never again waste money on a flimsy tomato cage.

Thanks, Pops!

(Just getting off the phone with my parents.)
Me: Well, I'm about to make Dad famous!
Mom: You made Dad famous the day you were born.



  1. I was tear free until you added that dang P.S. your Mama gets me every time.

    I was proud of your Dad the whole time. I may even forget about the whole snake episode. Maybe.

    I'm showing Barry the tomato cages. Wonky tomato cages make me angry. These are brilliant.


  2. 1. oh the beets. may!! really..don't be jealous B, don't be jealous
    2. this post is making me miss your sis and you didn't even mention her .
    3. I really like that picture of your dad.
    4. oh your mama {:
    5. and Hi! Its been forever but I still follow along...
    6. this is where i could list off all your previous posts that have affected the core. but I'll spare you. just keep sharing girl. Jesus is working!

  3. oh my goodness. i've got a garden and i'm green with envy over your father's. what a thumb he has.

  4. I heart Dwight Garber.

    Dwight Garber for President!

  5. Shiftless Wonkery. Dad's Rock! especially hard workin Daddies! :)

  6. Love your mom's quote at the end of your phone conversation! :) She's such a gem.

  7. I'm growing my first urban garden - but I forgot to put cages around the ding dong tomatoes! I wrestled two plants into some of the flimsy ones you spoke of (Aldi had them for 99 cents!) but panicked. Is it too late to put your dad's cages around them? Don't hold my garden against me, please. I just want my children to eat green things. :)

    1. I dare-say it's not too late. As long as you can fit it over them, it's not too late. Cage those 'maters!

  8. I'm totally with you about the childhood garden I was "forced" to help weed. Hated EVERY minute of it, but remember, surprisingly and very weirdly, exactly how many earthworms I watched when I was supposed to be weeding. Today, I have a garden that grows year after year. My husband designed the same cages your dad did, from a design that my grandpa made years ago. I currently have 15 of them in my garden. They ARE great. Tell your dad good job!

  9. Do you think your Dad would look at me weird if I showed up and wanted to buy some of his produce??!! I live in town - can't grow stuff:( I've tried. And tried and tried and tried. I finally gave away our tomato cages this year. Things just won't grow here no matter what we try. Sigh. Now I'm feeling a pity party coming on!

  10. Love this post! Your words create such a picture and my favorite line (it's the stuff of a greatness): Mustard and pickle chips, kitchen curtains hanging lank in a breeze-less window. That's just one verse of my childhood summers.
    Love your mom's comment, too. This post kicked off a warm fuzzy Monday for me. Thanks! :)

  11. If I ever rock an urban garden, I'm going to follow your daddy's instructions!

    Hey, I mentioned you on my blog today. You're influencing the way I speak. ;-)

    I'm also hosting a giveaway today.


  12. Your p.s. did me in. What a sweet mom you have!

  13. Aw, that P.S. just wiped out anything else I was going to say.

  14. "You made Dad famous the day you were born." Like!

  15. Are you kidding me?! Awesome kids come from totally awesome parents...I dig yours ;)
    My hubby is going to be over the moon with these cages, cages, cages!! Our tomatoes are outta control over here....

  16. "Mom: You made Dad famous the day you were born."

    Amazing parents :)

  17. Your P.S. made me teary. Beautiful ending to a beautiful tribute.

  18. the picture of ruby girl is perfectly pretty!!!
    tomato cage idea -- brilliant.

    also, i tried to mimic your favorite sandwich for lunch today, sans father sam's. no meijer's to be found in our neck of the woods. :( ranks right up there with my radish sandwich, so i'll probably have it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, and.....(you get the idea).

  19. I appreciate this clear-cut how-to--forwarding it my husband, the gardener in our family!

  20. I think your dad and mine would get along just fine. I marvel over his garden sprouts and inventions alike, but our family plot growing up was nothing like his today either. Oh, yeah, the chicken patties took me back to Mom's kitchen too. Nothing like summer evenings to stir up childhood memories!

  21. okay. stop the bus. i started crying when I read what your mom said when you guys hung up the phone.
    surely, it's that time of the month for me!

  22. That is the sweetest comment ever!

  23. I just love your Daddy. He is a great man. A very great man indeed! And he makes a heck of a tomato cage. Brilliant.

  24. Ditto on the PS.



    ~Bridget in CA

  25. Seriously. I have a hefty bag of amazing words I like to through into intensely academic conversations. Wonkery has just been added, and already I feel smarter. Well played.
    Moreover. I have a garden and really large hair, but before you get your hopes up that your spit from your girly aim may actually hit its gargantuan target, let me say we are moving. Now that my lettuce is leafy and beautiful and a shade of green only homegrown and make. Now that our too deeply planted carrots chose to make their debut. Now that our tomato plants have exploded and flowers are being replaced by the real deal. We are moving. Don't even bother. I spit in my own hair. Now look away so I can slump away in private. :(

  26. Would your parents consider blogging? Please?

    That really is a genius idea. I've never seen less wonky tomato cages. We dabbled with yard gardening this year (like 3 plants and a few seeds, but I think it counts). So far we have leaves and even a bloom or 2, but no actual produce. I'm still hopeful.

    May I request some photos of the soil whisking that goes on around there? I have a visual in my mind, but a photo would be awesome. ;)

    ps, "shiftless wonkery" should totally be the name of something. A band? A cartoon? A book? Be glad you copyrighted this blog, FPFG...

  27. I love the pictures in this post, Shannan.

    I couldn't find our tomato cages while my husband was at work. It had rained and the cherry tomato plant on our patio was bowing low. I did what I had to do...found a stick and a garbage bag tie. Shh. Don't tell your dad. It's still doing its job right now. Now to find those cages.

  28. Your momma is the best and one of these days, I am going with you to the farm!

  29. You had Dad and I in tears. My word we thought all this time you were in on the sofa with a fan blowing on you all summer, and then we found out you were out battling the weeds all day until dusk. It gave us a vision of the great depression. At least you had a chicken patty to reward you before you fell onto your straw pallet. We can't wait to hear Calvin and River's version of working their farm ground someday. We love you.

    1. No, I was out in a fold-out lounger with a stack of library books and a bowl of cherries! But I DO remember working out until dusk a time or two. And I definitely remember the late-night chicken patties!

  30. gah! i was teary until i read these last two comments...then i started giggling. :D fantastic.
    i'm SO glad i popped over here, because we JUST planted mr. stripey and we need cages.
    ima gonna make hubby make THESE! :D

  31. Love this post. Love those cages! Thanks Shannan's dad! Your story reminds me of my own. And now that I have my own garden, I'm thinking that I finally get it. How you just can't put the time in when the kids when what they need. How the garden is just going to have to look like chaos sometimes because that's all I can give. So when I look at my dad's now perfectly beautiful border beds that he's turned into veggie gardens I think, one day I'll being trading the chaos for the perfect. And it makes my mama heart hurt a little. So I just revel in the chaos that is my garden, knowing the kids are beside me picking things before they're ready, but loving it. Truly loving it.

  32. Dang! I should really re-read my comments. What I meant to say was when the kids are at the age when they need so much. Wow...I'm kind of impressed that I was able to type a sentence that was so disjointed!

  33. So I am re-reading this because I just have tomatoes coming out of my ears. Hypothetically. Right now they're just wimpy plants. I HATE WAITING for garden tomatoes. And anyway, I was just wondering if you want to spit on me still.

  34. "shiftless wonkery" -- yet again, your wordsmithery slays.

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