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.