But there's some good news for DIY enthusiasts; if you are willing to do 10 minutes worth of work, you can build a high quality cage for about $10. Here's the materials list and the instructions:
- 7 foot x 3.5 foot Mesh Mini-Panels - these are used to reinforce concrete in construction work and are available from home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot. The wire is very sturdy and the openings between the mesh measure 6 inches by 6 inches, making it easy to get your hand into the cage when you prune or pick tomatoes. Buy 1 panel for every cage you want to make. Each panel should cost about $7.
- Double Loop Bar Ties - these are like the twistees that you use in the grocery store to tie off plastic bags, except for the fact that they are industrial strength. You'll use these to fasten the two ends of the mesh mini-panels into a tube to form your cage. You'll need 5 bar ties for each cage. I think they are a few dollars for a package of 100.
- 3 foot long metal stake - one for every cage. About $3.
- Plastic zip ties - two for every cage you want to make.
- Bolt Cutter - This is a heavy duty wire cutter. You'll need one to trim the mini-panels. (see photo) It costs $20-$30 if you need to buy one.
- Bar Tie Twister Tool - a hand tool that makes it easy to twist the bar ties closed. It will probably be sold in the same section of the store where the mini-panels and bar ties are sold. Cost is about $7.
- Pair of work gloves.
- Hammer or sledge hammer
To make the tomato cages, you will pull the long-ends of the mini-panels together to form a tube and connect them using the bar ties. The detailed instructions are as follows:
- Place a mini panel on the grass or driveway. Step into the center of the panel and stand toward the top end of the panel. Grab the edge of the panel along one of the long sides. Using your feet and body weight to hold down the panel, bend the edge of the mini panel towards yourself. Step to the side, grab the next section of the panel and bend towards you. Continue until one of the long sides of the panel are bent towards the center.
- On the same long side, grab the panel 6 inches below the edge and repeat the same procedure as in step 1. This one side should now be bent inward and be rounded.
- Now move to the other long side of the panel and repeat steps #1 and #2 for this side.
- Pick up one of the long sides of the panel and bend it toward the other long side using the ground to hold the opposite side down. At this point the panel will look like a tube. You should do this at the top, middle and bottom of the panel. When you are finished the panel should look like the letter "U." (see below photo)
- Starting at the top of the mini-panel, grab both long ends and hold them together to form a tube. Using your other hand, grab a bar tie and wrap it around the end of the mini-panel so that the loop of the bar ties are aligned. Use the bar tie tool to twist the bar tie so that it fastens both ends of the mini-panel together. You do this by putting the pointed end of the tool through the loops of the bar tie and twisting.
- Move down the mini-panel about 1.5 feet and repeat step #5. Do this until the entire mini-panel has been fastened into a tube. You now have a 7 foot high cage with a diameter of about 14 inches.
- Using the bolt cutter, trim off the bottom edge of the cage so that you are "spikes" at the bottom to hold your cage into the soil. (see photo)
- If you would like your cage to be less than 7 feet high, use the bolt cutters to trim the top of the cage to whatever height you desire.
- Use a hammer to put a metal stake into the ground about 7 inches away from your tomato plant.
- Place the cage over the tomato so that one edge of the cage touches the edge of the metal stake.
- Use two zip ties to fasten the cage to the metal stake. You now have secured the cage so that it can withstand the wind and the weight of all the tomatoes your going to grow this season!