(a husband post…)
I had almost given up on gardening, given our current living conditions. The soil in Northwest Arkansas consists of about three inches of arable soil on top of a layer of solid rock. Our first year here, we tried to circumvent the hurdles by planting in pots, but it’s still really hard to get through the dry season here. You have to water, water, water, and even then it just never seems to produce the kind of plant that I grew up with in the fertile soils of the East Arkansas delta.
Nevertheless, Bethany is persistent and she convinced me to take another run at growing some tomatoes this year. What started out as “just a couple of plants” ended up being three growing in a hay bale and four plants in pots. Now, if you’ve grown tomatoes before, you know how much work they can be. One thing you have to remember is that tomatoes need some support – those limbs just get more fruit than they can handle sometimes and they will break. We lucked out and found some wire tomato cages at Aldi for super cheap, but that didn’t cover all of our needs. I had to get creative.
Instead of buying more cages at a store, I decided to build my own using what I had lying around the house. Now, there are hundreds of ways to keep your tomato plants supported, and I don’t pretend to be an expert – this is just what I came up with to keep the plants supported.
Using my table saw, I cut a 2 x 4 in half length-wise. Next, I cut each side in half again (length-wise again). Again, I ran the long strips through the blade, cutting all four in half length-wise. So, the diagram for cutting would look like this:
Of course, if you don’t have a saw, you can buy dowel rods at just about any store or use some straight sticks. One of my favorite materials is Cane sticks (some folks call it Bamboo) these are excellent natural materials, but they will probably only last a season.
Once you have your sticks ready for work, cut them into roughly four foot sections and poke them down into the dirt of your pot and an outward facing angle. I used three, but you can use four or more, depending on the size of your pot. Remember, the more vertical sticks you use, the more work you will be required to do in the later steps. Continue with vertical sticks two and three until you have what looks like an inverted three-legged stool.
Next, we will add the horizontal pieces to complete the framework. Now, if your plants are newbies and aren’t actually needing the support yet, the placement of the horizontal cross pieces isn’t as important, but my plants were already needing the support and I had to adjust my positioning as needed.
Begin by cutting a stick or piece of wood long enough to span from one of the vertical legs to the other. I attached my lattice together using an age old technique, called Lashing, that I learned from my Dad when I was a boy. It’s a super simple way to attach two sticks together using nothing but string. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here, but if you don’t know about lashing, here is an excellent youtube tutorial.
Continue lashing the horizontal sticks to the vertical pieces until you make it all the way around the pot. As your plant grows, and you need more support, you can move up the vertical supports and start another horizontal row. It’s an extremely cost-effective and versatile framework that you can adapt to almost any material or size of plant.