Building Wooden Tomato Cages

Regular readers (they exist?) of this blog will know that I have been growing tomatoes for a while. The Season Red tomato cultivar that I have been growing is supposed to be a determinate type, which means that it should reach a certain size and the stop growing. That and the fact that I am growing it in containers lead me to believe that they would not require much more than a single stake to support.

Instead I found that they grew much larger than was practical to support with stakes. This is particularly true if you want to keep the container movable which means that you cannot place the stakes into the ground around the container. I realised that I needed some sort of more serious support structure for my tomatoes.

I have often though of building cages that look something like this, but the need to weld has put me off. Even if I could get hold of welder, I’d probably kill myself. I’m a klutz… So I decided to think of something that could be built fairly simply and cheaply using only basic tools. This is what I came up with:

Completed wooden tomato cage

Advantages and disadvantages


  • looks natural
  • doesn’t require welding
  • can be made by idiots


  • Less robust
  • more expensive?
  • less durable?


  • 4x 1.8m long, 16mm diameter pine dowels
  • 4x 900mm long 8mm diameter pine dowels
  • 0.9m and 1.8m long 25x40mm pine planks
    • Cut into 4 500mm long sections and 4 40x40mm blocks. There will be some leftover.
  • 8 4x40mm wood screws
  • Wood glue for future repairs :)


  • Electric drill
    • 16 mm wood drill bit
    • 8 mm drill bit
    • 3 mm drill bit
  • Hacksaw/steaknife
  • pencil


Base construction

The base supports the whole structure from the ground up. The trellis will be supported by inserting the 16mm dowels into the 16mm holes that will be drilled into the base.

  • Align the 500mm pieces of plank such that they form a square, with the ends overlapping so that the corners form double-height regions.
  • Starting at a corner
    • Ensure that the two planks meet flush, and at right angles.
    • drill two diagonally opposed 3mm holes, penetrating both pieces of plank. Ensure that you are not to close to the edge of the top or bottom planks, but leave enough space for a 16mm hole through both.
    • Attach the two planks using screws through the 3mm holes.
    • Repeat for the other corners.
  • Drill a 16mm hole at each corner. The holes should go through the top plank, and about 2/3 down the bottom plank. Should look something like this

Top side of base
Bottom side of base

Top support construction

  • Drill a 16mm hole about half way through 4 of the 40x40mm plank blocks.
  • Drill an 8mm hole on two sides of each block such that all four can be connected to form a square.
  • Connect the blocks using the 8mm dowels to form a square.

Closeup of top-support connecting blocks
Assembled top support

Marking the posts

The trellis will be constructed by winding wire around the four support posts. To do this we will mark the four posts in sequence such that each quarter rotation results in the trellis being 20cm higher. To do this

  • Lay the four support posts alongside each other on the floor.
  • Alternately mark each of the posts every 20cm, starting again at the first post once you reach the fourth.
Marked posts

The posts are marked every 20cm such that every quarter rotation around the structure results in the wire being 20cm higher.

Assemble all the wooden bits

  • Place the base on the ground with the 16mm holes pointing up
  • Stick the support posts firmly into the 16mm holes. You might wrap paper around the ends if the don’t fit snugly into the holes
  • Connect the four posts to the top support by placing the posts into the 16mm holes in the blocks. This will keep the top from collapsing.
Cage complete except for wire

Winding the trellis

  • If the plant you are trelissing is already somewhat grown, you might want to place it inside the cage before starting to wind the trellis.
  • Using the hacksaw (or knife) make notches in the posts at the pencil marks. Angle the notches slightly down when sawing. This is to keep the trellis wire from slipping out.
  • Tie the construction wire around the first post.
  • Working around the support posts, put the wire into the gaps. Mind to keep the wire under a bit of tension so that it can support the weight of the plant that will one day lean on it.
  • Tie around the top support structure.
Sawing support notches for the wire

Saw slightly downwards, at a 45 degree angle to the base

And there you go, a cage to contain your tomatoes, or other climbing plants.


So far my cages have held up reasonably well. They look a bit distored now due to the tomatoes growing somewhat asymmetrical. They also blew over in one of our Cape windstorms, resulting in some of the top connecting blocks breaking. This is where the woodglue came in :) I have since put some gravel in bowls on the bottom frame to keep the cage upright in the wind. Something that I may also want to try in the future is the tormato, a trellis constructed using only plastic pipes!

Whitefly traps

It seems that whitefly really loves tomato plants. Ever since I planted my first tomato seeds they seem to come at regular intervals. Initially I treated them with a garlic and pyrethrin based pesticide; that generally kept them away for some weeks.

More recently I had a very heavy infestation on mature tomato plants, and the garlic based pesticide appeared to be ineffectual. I’m not sure whether the whitefly got used to the taste of garlic, the pesticide had expired or if I just wasn’t covering the rather unruly plants well enough, but it didn’t seem to help.

An attempt at regaining control

So, I looked for some alternatives. I got sick of smelling garlic all the time, and tried to use a soap spray. One teaspoon of Sunlight liquid dish-washing soap per litre of water was recommended to me. I applied it once, and it seemed to kill some whitefly, but it didn’t really seem to get rid of them.

Apparently the soap has no residual action after the spray dries, so that might have been part of the problem. The other part of the problem was the pathetic hand-sprayer I was using. Apart from only holding a paltry 500 ml of liquid, it doesn’t really work when upside down; makes covering the bottom of leaves quite hard.

The final solution

I did some more research, and decided to A) buy a decent pressurised pesticide sprayer B) make sticky whitefly traps. Apparently they are attracted by the colour yellow. Some site I read claimed that they look for the “healthiest” leaves, and somehow yellow indicates that to them; makes no sense to me. In any case, the traps definitely work.

After bringing the whitefly infestation down to manageable proportions by consecutive daily soap sprayings (the pressurised sprayer made that a joy), I mounted my whitefly traps. Within minutes of mounting a couple around my tomato plants (and giving them a good shake to bother the whitefly) they were covered by a large number of soon-to-be whitefly corpses.

A week later there are virtually no whitefly left on my tomatoes! As an aside, the soap solution seems to work even better on red spider mite than on the whitefly. It seems to finally have rid my black eyed Susans of spider mite.

Building the whitefly traps

Combining ideas from the two links above, I decided to cover yellow poster board with plastic, and coating that with a thin layer of oil. Most people seem to use motor oil for some reason, but cooking oil seems to work just as well and is non-toxic to boot! I somehow got confused when shopping, and bought cling-wrap rather than plastic bags. I might have been reading about Roy Orbison that day.

To make the traps, I cut the yellow poster board into roughly 20x15cm pieces and then wrapped them in cling-wrap. I also punched some holes for strings to hang them from using a paper punch. I tied some rope through the holes, and sealed them using prestik. Just to keep it water tight. Finally I applied a light coating of cooking oil using a very advanced brush system. Ok, so I used toilet paper. Below you can seem some pictures of the traps in action.

Whitefly trap 1
Whitefly trap 2

Flowering tomatoes

About a week or so ago I noticed flower buds beginning to appear on first tomato plant I transplanted to a SWC. Exciting, because if you are lucky, the flowers eventually turn into tomatoes! So far I don’t really see anything that looks like tomatoes forming, hope I won’t be suffering from the dreaded blossom drop. Not unlikely, since it’s actually the wrong season to be growing (winter in the southern hemisphere). The plant is in a fairly sunny north-facing spot, so let’s hope for the best.

I meant to put some pictures of the blossoms up. I even bought a cheap digital camera on a 60% off clearance sale and took some pictures, but I can’t for the life of me find the cable for my new camera. Oh my.


Managed to find my camera’s cable. Herewith a closeup and full-plant picture:

Tomato blossom closeup

Tomato plant

Parma ham & fried tomatoes update

Recently I wrote about a Quick Parma ham with fried tomatoes pasta recipe that I tried, but wasn’t quite happy with. Well, the good news is I tried it again following my own suggestions (basically, leaving stuff out), and the result was truly delicious! The final recipe is the same as before, but leaving out the feta, parmesan and olives, using more tomatoes and less parma ham. Just for the record, I’ll write out the complete recipe.


  • 30g sliced Parma ham
  • 20g fresh rocket
  • 20g fresh basil
  • Some sprigs of fresh thyme and origanum
  • 200-300g cherry tomatoes
  • 60g (I’m guessing) pasta screws
  • A little oil for frying

A recipe calling for Parma ham might seem like it would not be very cheap, but you actually don’t need much and it is easy to buy a small quantity from the deli section of most supermarkets. I have fresh herbs growing in my potted garden, so they’re free too :) I’d recommend washing the fresh ingredients before you start.


  1. Start boiling water for the pasta.
  2. In a heated and oiled skillet start frying the cherry tomatoes over medium heat.
  3. Remember to start cooking the pasta according to package directions once the water boils and also to remove it from the water when it is done.
  4. Strip the thyme & origanum from woody stems, and frighten them a little in a mortar & pestle. Guess you could chop them a little if you don’t have such a beast.
  5. Add the thyme & origanum to the tomatoes.
  6. Roll up the Parma ham and slice at +- 2cm intervals.
  7. When the tomatoes look wrinkled and old (from frying!) squash them to let the juice out.
  8. Add the parma ham, basil and rocket to the tomatoes, and stir around for a bit
  9. Add the cooked pasta, toss, remove from heat and enjoy!

The end

Well, there you go. Simple, fast, cheap single-portionable and delicious. Do enjoy!

Quick Parma ham with fried tomatoes, olives and herbs attempted

As a semi-bachelor I’m always looking for quick, tasty and preferably not terribly expensive food that is easy to make for one or two people. Tonight I share with you a recipe that almost worked. It was tasty, but the tastes were a bit muddled. Some simplifications to try later will be discussed at the end :)


  • 30g sliced Parma ham (used about 50g but that’s too much methinks)
  • 8 Calmata style (or other brown/black) olives
  • A quater “cake” of Feta
  • 20g fresh rocket
  • 20g fresh basil
  • Some sprigs of fresh thyme and origanum
  • 8 cherry tomatoes
  • 60g (I’m guessing) pasta screws
  • A little oil for frying
  • A bit of grated parmesan cheese for garnish.

A recipe calling for Parma ham might seem like it would not be very cheap, but you actually don’t need much and it is easy to buy a small quantity from the deli section of most supermarkets. I have fresh herbs growing in my potted garden, so they’re free too :) I’d recommend washing the fresh ingredients before you start.


  1. Start boiling water for the pasta.
  2. In a heated and oiled skillet start frying the cherry tomatoes over medium heat.
  3. Remember to start cooking the pasta according to package directions once the water boils and also to remove it from the water when it is done.
  4. Strip the thyme & origanum from woody stems, and frighten them a little in a mortar & pestle. Guess you could chop them a little if you don’t have such a beast.
  5. Add the thyme & origanum to the tomatoes.
  6. After a minute or 2 add the olives
  7. Roll up the Parma ham and slice at +- 2cm intervals.
  8. When the tomatoes look wrinkled and old (from frying!) squash them to let the juice out.
  9. Add the parma ham, basil, rocket, and feta to the tomatoes, and stir around for a bit
  10. Add the cooked pasta, toss, remove from heat, add grated parmesan cheese and enjoy!

Notes & Conclusion

In spite of the number of steps, this dish was very quick to make, since you can do everying while stuff is cooking. Took about 25 minutes from start to finish. Taste-testing while making the sauce seemed very promising, but in the end I was a little dissapointed.I think this recipe suffers from too many good things. I think I could have used less parma ham, since it has a very concentrated flavour. More tomatoes would probably have been good too. Next time I’m going to forgo the feta, parmesan and olives completely; if that seems a bit bland I’ll add ingredients one by one.

These days I use Fatti & Moni’s wholewheat pasta in most of my pasta dishes. Initially I was sceptical of wholewheat pasta, but tried it out because its healthier. Much to my surprise I can hardly tell the difference in taste, and so far it has worked quite well in every dish I’ve tried it in.

Going somewhat strong

Planting out to SWCs

I planted one of the tomato seedlings out into my 10 Litre Self-watering Bucket, and it has really taken off! Seems pleased as punch with its new surroundings. The bell pepper plant has also been doing well in its 7l SWC, but is not growing quite as fast as the tomato. I managed to get more buckets from the restaurant. I used one to transplant a sorrel plant that was sharing a container with (and getting abused by) origanum plants and it has been growing well. Also (Saturday) planted another each of tomato and pepper seedlings into 7l SWCs, as well as a parsley plant that was getting crowded out by the mint plant sharing its pot.

About a week ago (or two, my mind…) I sowed some more rocket seeds, as well as some of the basil seeds that I saved from a now departed plant. They have now germinated, and seem to be progressing well. I’m going to plant some of the rocket seedlings in the 50l SWC, and one of them in a 7l SWC. The other rocket plants in the 50l SWC never did well, but it is possible that I gave them too much sun in the sumer. Perhaps they’ll like the winter.

Spreading the Origanum

I had (for a long time) two origanum plants (along with the sorrel mentioned above) in a rectangular (oh, let’s say 50x15x15 cm) container. The origanums grew very well, while the sorrel suffered. I wanted to clear the pot so I could put some of the marigold seedlings in it. I planted one of the origanum plants directly into my “garden” (i.e. in the sandy soil under the gravel cover of my patio), and one in a 7l food container. I had another type of origanum (has somewhat softer leaves, but grows slower) growing in a small container. It was a small stem with roots that I accidentally pulled out a while ago while harvesting from the softer-leaved origanum plant. It had grown nicely, so I planted it out into my 50l dry-herb container.

Dry herb container progress

At long last the rosemary and thyme in my 50l dry herb containers seem to have started growing in earnest. The rosemary hasn’t really increased its footprint, but has ramified quite a bit and has a number of new shoots growing upwards. Now I just hope the new origanum plant also grows well. Actually, my other rosemary plants also seem to be waking up. so hopefully I’ll have a well-establised rosemary bush or 2 to harvest from soon.


It did not take long, but white-fly seems to have found the recently transplanted tomato plant, and something seemed to be at the peper plant too. Gave them all (along with all the other pepper and tomato plants) a good treatment with Ludwig’s spray on Saturday. Seemed to result in the tomato plant virtually doubling its size overnight, though that may just be my impression of the situation ;) Some of my marigolds also seem to be suffering from something (spider mite?) so used the leftover solution to give them a good dusting. In spite of whatever may be wrong with them the are still flowering and growing.

A late update

It’s been a while, but herewith some gardening updates! The damn spider mites seem to be a recurring nightmare on my black eyed suzans. Cooler winter weather coming, so perhaps that will give me a chance to bring them under control. I’ve also had my first good harvest of basil; used it to make pesto. Had no idea pine nuts were so expensive (R60 for 100g!), ended up substituting wallnuts. Tasted good though.

I also planted a rosemary bush into the “real” ground outside my apartment. My “garden” is covered with decorative gravel, but there seems to be (very sandy) soil underneath. Good for rosemary, and since my potted rosemaries don’t seem to be doing anything, I gave it a try. The bush seemed to be doing well till I carelessly stepped on it (while spraying the black eyed susans for spider mite) and broke half the twigs off. Hope it recovers.

Procreational update

A while ago I went about creating a whole bunch of baby plants! The tomatoes are looking good, and I’ve re-potted them again into somewhat larger pots. The bell pepper seedlings are doing similarly well. One of the bell pepper seedlings have been planted into a self watering container made from 7l chutney containers that I got (for free!) from a local restaurant.

I ended up giving one each of the tomato and bell pepper seedlings to a colleague. Also gave her one of the successful origanum cuttings. The other (along with a bell pepper, chives, marigolds and store-bought rosemary and thyme plants) were given as a wedding gift. The wedding couple really seemed to like they idea of receiving plants, although I did have inside info that they were looking to gussy up the garden at their new home :)

Have had no luck with thyme cuttings, even when using growth hormones! I dunno what’s up with that. May be that I used too small cuttings and put them in too shallow soil. Have now tried a much longer (and tender) cutting, planted in more soil, and so far it seems to have made what looks like the beginning of roots fingers crossed. As an aside, it is useful not to harvest your thyme for a while if you are looking for longer tender shoots :)

The garlic seedling has been planted in a 50l washbasin container along with some chives, garlic chives and basil. The basil seems to be thriving, while the garlic chives and garlic are doing fairly well, while the normal chives seem to be just hanging on. Not sure if the (single) basil plant is interfering with the others, or if the basil just doesn’t care as much about the mix of container soil and earth in the pot. I’ll see how it goes, perhaps the chives will do well once they establish themselves, otherwise I’ll make a different plan.

The End

Bed time for this one, folks. Hope to share some more soon, as well as a recipe or two. For now, all the best!

Sharing, Caring and Spider-mites

It feels nice to give, and I got the feeling by donating one each of the tomato, bell pepper and origanum seedlings/cuttings metioned before to a colleague. The garlic chives are also doing better; intially it seemed like only about 4 of the seeds I planted had germinated, but a couple of warm days seems to have brought the total to 10. Perhaps I’ll be giving some of them away too :)

Spider Mite Woes

On a less positive note, my black eyed Susans have been attacked by spider-mite. These little buggers are quite vicious and hard to get rid of. Part of the problem is their very short life-cycle, which frequently leads to resistance against pesticides. Luckily Ludwig’s organic pesticide that I have mentioned before seems effective. I applied it on Saturday (2010-02-20) night, and the following morning the little red specks previously visible on the leaves had changed to black. Interestingly, the concentration of Ludwig’s spray recommended (by the included instructions) for spider mite is much stronger than for just about any other pest, and you also also need to be sure to completely coat the top and bottom sides of the leaves.

A follow-up application will be needed to take care of new hatchlings as the pesticide does not damage the mite eggs. Will probably do that tomorrow night or perhaps even morning, since high temperatures (like Stellenbosch is currently experiencing) leads to a gestation period of as little as 3 days. I saw another organic spider mite specific insecticide in Stellenbosch’s Builders Warehouse Express which claims to be effective against the eggs too. Supposedly it also results in in less colateral damage, but it was quite expensive. I decided to give it a skip.

Yesterday, while collecting herbs for Sunday lunch cooking, I saw that my flat-leaved parsley also seemed to have spider-mites. Since it was next to herbs I wanted to use immediately (Ludwig’s requires you to wait 48 hours after application before harvesting edible food) I squashed them between thumb and forefinger, and tore off the most badly affected leaves. The very flat leaves of the parsely don’t seem to mind the pressure, and there were few enough leaves for it to be manageable.

Seed Collecting

It takes quite a bit longer for the seeds on plants that have bolted to become harvestable that I had imagined. Today I collected some pods from a basil plant that has gone to seed. It seems like it took forever for the pods to turn brown after the petals have droped. Even now only a fraction of them have gone brown.

I’ve been waiting similarly long for a the cos-lettuce that bolted after an aphid attack to produce seeds. Yesterday I got a bit of a surprise when a guest looking at my garden pointed out the Dandelion like parachute balls that had formed on this plant. And attached to the little parachutes were litte seeds! Yay!

I placed the collected seeds in labeled envelopes for storage. They shouldn’t stay there for too long, since I hope to plant them out soon.

The End

I’m getting better at not blogging during times of day that I should be sleeping! In any case, I also wanted to talk about some of my more recent self watering container experiences, but this post is getting too long. But don’t fret, that news will come in the near future :)

Various Acts of Procreation

In this exciting update, we hear the fate of several newly germinated and cloned members of my plant family, inter alia bell peppers, garlic, garlic chives and tomatoes. Some of them area alive and well, others, alas, did not make it. Wake at noon!

Keep reading