Indestructable Tomato Cages

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So anyway, I think my wife might be insane. Here’s why; every year she plants tomatoes and every year she buys the cheap flimsy tomato cages for the plants to grow on and every year the plants grow up on the cages and tip them over, bending them to the ground. I believe the definition of insanity is -“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I still love her.

Last year as the tomato plants and tomatoes lay on the ground I told her I would make her tomato cages next year. Hey, I had to do something to stop the insanity. So next year is here and I made her tomato cages.

My youngest daughter and son-in-law have three sons. Myles is the middle son. My mom had three sons. I was the middle child. It’s interesting to watch Myles struggle to find his place in the family. I can relate to the struggle because I also struggled to find my place in my family. As a middle child you really do get ignored, especially if your older brother is cool and your baby brother is cute. His are. Mine were. His mom tries very hard to make Myles feel special, but when his friends come over to play they are drawn to the coolness of his older brother, the cuteness of his baby brother and Myles is mostly left out. Myles is good at passing time playing alone with his toys and is best friend, “imagination.” My mother claims that I did the same.

Myles just had a birthday and for his birthday he wanted tomato plants so he could grow his own tomatoes. He loves tomatoes. When my wife, his Nana, heard this, she decided “we” should make a raised garden and surprise him with the garden and tomato plants. He’s four.

I know it is a little odd a four year old wanting tomato plants for his birthday, but again, I can relate to that oddness. Ask anyone to describe me and they will use many different adjectives and “odd” will always be one of those adjectives. Most people will use restraint and not say it out loud, but the adjective “odd” will be top of mind and on the tip of their tongues. (“Odd”-Deviating from what is ordinary, usual, or expected; strange or peculiar.)

So I built Myles a raised garden out of 1″X6″ cedar. The garden is 2’X6’ and 11” tall or deep. 2″X6″ cedar would last a lot longer, but 1″X6″ will probably out last his interest in growing tomatoes.

I also routered out a sign that says “Myles’ Garden – Love Nana and Grandpa.” I didn’t have room to say, “Love Nana and Mr. Grandpa Larson,” which is what I insist that all my grand kids call me, so the sign just says Grandpa.

Long story short, I also made Myles tomato cages.

I made the cages out of 3/8” rebar. I figured that 3/8” would be strong , last a long time and the lumber yard was all out of ¼”. Our local lumber yard, Stayton Builders Mart, stock not only rebar, but they also have a rebar cutter. I figured that out of a 20’ piece of rebar I could cut five, 4’ piece out of the bar. Tough math. My plan was to make the cages 4’ tall, with four sides and each side would be 1’ wide, 4’X1’=4′. I bought enough rebar to make six tomato cages. Myles only needed two and my wife needs three, but she told me to make her four because someday she would retire and grow four tomato plants. Clearly she has her retirement activity all planned out, pushing her limit to four plants.

So the Builder’s Mart sold me the rebar, pointed to the cutter and said, “knock yourself out.” The chore of cutting went pretty quickly after I set up a cutting guide. I positioned the cutter 4′ from the base of the lumber rack, slide the rebar end against the rack and cut. Once I had all 45 of the 4′ pieces cut, I took them home, laid them all out in a nice flat row and using water and a wire brush I tried to remove as much rust and crud as I could

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I let the bars dry and then painted them red. My wife wanted them painted red so that it would look like we had tomatoes before the tomatoes actually tuned red. What can I say, she is, after all, insane.

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After the paint dried I marked twenty four of the bright red 4′ bars into 12″ increments. Then I clamped each bar in my bench vice and bent them into 1′ squares using a piece of pipe that I slipped over the bars for leverage. It wasn’t as much fun as it sounds and welding the squares onto the 4′ legs was even less fun. After several frustrating hours trying to hold the legs and squares together while welding them I got all six cages welded together. After I finished welding each cage, I tested my welds by tossing the completed cage out my shop door onto the gravel driveway. It wasn’t much of a test, but it made me feel better. Of course, after bending and welding the cages I had to touch up the paint.

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In the end, the cages turned out pretty well. Am I glad I spent all that time making indestructible tomato cages? Yes. Would I do It again? Probably, but I am a glutton for punishment. If you take on this project, get a friend to help you hold the parts together while you weld.

Anyway…for what it’s worth.

 

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Hops garden/Fire pit.

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Hops-not just for beer!

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When we first started building the project now known as The Farm it was just a grass seed field with some trees and an old shack at one end. We have come a long way since then. We started by building a pump house for the well and to store tools. Then we built a garage, a house, a barn and last year, a shop. We have fenced and crossed fenced, planted lawns, built gardens, planted trees, dug a pond and maintained it all to the high standards of my loving wife. This place takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of time and sometimes I think we should move to a small house with a small yard. But the truth is, I love this place and I plan on living here until the day I die.

Over the last few years we have made an effort to make The Farm less work by reducing the size of the lawn that needs to be mowed, reducing the number of animals we keep and even hiring help with yard work. Even with the goal of making The Farm less work, I sometimes get a wild hair and we take one step backwards.

One of the first things we did when we were building this place was to make a fire pit out in the field by the pond. Over the years the fire pit has become a place to burn all the branches that get trimmed off the fifty some trees we have planted around the yard. A couple of years ago my wife mentioned that it might be nice to have a fire pit closer to the house so we wouldn’t have to haul the marshmallows so far to roast them.

I’m sure she envisioned a small ring of stones with a couple of benches around it when she mentioned it to me. However, my brain doesn’t work that way and the simple idea of a fire pit grew into “The Hops Garden/Fire Pit.”

Once we agreed on where the new fire pit would be built the creative side of me was awakened and I went to work. I had a vague idea of what I wanted the end product to look like, and since it wasn’t brain surgery, I decided to let the creative juices flow and see what happened.

The location of the pit was near one corner of the yard, exposed on two sides to the open field. I wanted the pit to be a little more private so if I decide to dance naked around a fire, the neighbors wouldn’t complain. I also wanted it to be shaded so that in the late afternoon we wouldn’t be sitting around a fire in the hot sun. So here is what happened.

The place we agreed to put the pit was on a long hump of ground that covered out septic field. My first task was to level the area by hauling in dirt with my tractor. It took several loads and a lot of shoveling and raking, but I got the area level.

After the area was level I built a metal sculpture or column that would serve as the centerpiece of the hops garden/fire pit. Like most projects, I work on a very small budget, so the column was made from three 20’ pieces of rebar that my son Marcus helped me braid together. I cut out a half dozen large leaves from sheet metal and welded it all together. Eventually the hops got too heavy and I added a ¾” length of black iron pipe to keep the the plants from bending the column to the ground. The base of the column is planted in a foot of concrete and weighted with rock.

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I wanted an arbor like entrance to the pit area, so I welded together an arbor. It too was made from rebar. To give it a good stable base I used concrete to set it in place.

My idea was to plant hops around the perimeter of a large circle, 36’ across, and train them to climb strands of wire up to the top of the column that was in the center of the circle. To accomplish this, I drove a dozen 7’ T-post around the perimeter of the circle and ran three strands of heavy, 10 gauge, galvanized wire around the circle of T-posts, one at the top, one midway up and one a few inches from the ground. I then started stringing lighter weight wire from the bottom wire up to the middle and top wires and then to the 5’ metal circle at the top of the column. I spaced the wires about 12” apart so there would be plenty of wires for the hops to climb.

There was a sprinkler head near the outer edge of the new garden that would be blocked from view by hops once the hops started to grow. I dug a trench from the sprinkler to the center column and then laid black poly pipe in the trench, added a 90 degree elbow and ran more black poly pipe to the top of the column. I removed the sprinkler, attached the poly pipe to the system and put the sprinkler head on the top of the pipe at the top of the column. I adjusted the sprinkler so that when the sprinkler system came on the sprinkler would water out to the perimeter of the garden.

Next I removed a 12’ circle of grass around the center column and filled it with pea grave and bordered the circle with concrete edging to contain the gravel.

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The Willamette Valley is known for the production of hops, so finding hop starts was easy. I purchased three varieties of hops to add a contrast of green to the garden. The first year hops will generally grow about 6-8’, but once they are established they will grow 20-25’ long and they will grow about a foot a day. To add color to the garden I planted purple morning glories.

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We had purchased several years ago, a large concrete bowl that we used as a water feature in a garden near the back deck. One year during a very cold winter it cracked and would hold water any more. My wife wanted me to get rid of it, but it occurred to me that it would be the perfect fire pit, so I moved it to the garden.

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We have enjoyed the new hops garden/fire pit for two years now. When the hops and morning glory have climbed to the top column the garden becomes a very large green, shady tent where we can enjoy a fire closer to the house and where we don’t have to carry the marshmallows so far.

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