The Amazing ‘Tomato Cradle’!

Every year when my enthusiasm in spring for gardening is high, I have high hopes for my tomato plants and always go hog-wild putting them in. As summer rolls around, and play time arrives, that early spring plant-fest always ends up a slug-fest. Well, this year I’ve put a little extra effort into making sure this doesn’t happen!

This year I’d like to introduce you to my ‘tomato cradle’! Not wanting to have to tie up plants and not wanting them to fall to the ground, I opened my mind so as to accept a reasonable solution and this is what came to mind:

The 'Tomato Cradle' introduction

Does that come through for you like it does for me? You might want to click on the picture for a bigger view. Here’s the end view:

Side angle tomoato support

As you can see, I have raised beds in which I garden. These beds are five feet by ten feet. To me, that is the perfect size box.

If you look closer at the top picture, you’ll see that I’ve screwed in 1/2×3/4 slat wood supports in a slight ‘V’ shape. These supports come 8 feet long. I cut them in ½. At about 15-18 inches, I placed the cross support. This was at the height of the plants when I first put them in the ground.

The green wire is 4 foot high fencing with the biggest spacing that I could find. I believe it’s a 2×4 inch hole. I cut the fencing just long enough to span from support to support and before sliding it down on the supports, I folded the fencing in ½ (as the lower picture clearly shows).

After sliding the fencing down into place, I threaded the tops of the tomatoes through the fencing.

Since these were put up a few weeks ago, I’ve been watching to make sure I get all the main growth sprouts through the fencing. I want everything to grow on top of the fence. I’m expecting that as the plants grow, they will bloom and get heavy with fruit, but rather then fall to the ground, they will fall into the fencing.

The main idea is to support the fruit off the ground so as to make it really hard for a slug to get at it. The other key idea is to keep me from having to constantly tie up the plants! I just want to set the timer for watering and go play.

I’ll take some follow up pictures as the plants come into fruit to show how this new method is holding up. Also, if I come across issues, I’ll make sure to point those problems out.

Speaking of issues, I had absolutely no luck starting tomatoes from seed this spring. None! Last fall/early winter I wanted to get a start on spring and I dug up plans for making a cold frame off the net. I figured it shouldn’t be too hard (if I was lucky). I picked up a window off craigslist and other supplies at the local Home Depot. Then, I invited my dad over for his creative expertise.

After more than a few hours, this is that rolled out of the garage:

not so cheap Cold Frame

I have to say that I really like the counter-balance idea that my dad came up with. When you lift on the front of the ‘door’, it’s only a few pounds heavy. Notice the bricks that I’ve used for the counter balance weight. Turns out they work great.

Counter balance in action

I’ve got a couple extra bricks stored just behind the box out of sight so that when I need to have the door hang open, I just place them on the support and the door stands straight up. If you’re going to make a cold frame, I highly recommend a counter balance!

With a cold frame, one of the most important problems is heat. You want some, but not too much. I figured with my schedule, I’d fry everything – that is, if I didn’t get help. As my luck would have it, harbor Freight carried (carries) green house window lifters. They look like this:

Coolest gas piston!

These are totally cool! They are gas pistons that work on thermal energy. When the box heats up, the gas expands which pushes on the piston which lifts the window, which lets the heat out. As the air cools, the gas contracts the piston reverses and the window lowers. The pistons can lift up to fifteen pounds, but with the counter balance top, it’s not lifting that much. I have to admit that I get a sense of satisfaction when I see the window open a foot or so on a hot day.

At this point, I highly recommend this type of setup.

In a few weeks, after my current collection of starts make their way into the garden, I’m going to move the entire cold frame into the garden. I’ve cleared out a spot that’s just big enough that’s right next to the hose. One of the biggest problems that I had this spring was not keeping the starts moist enough. Next year I will not be hauling water. Thus I’ll have no excuse.

Another idea that my dad mentioned is to compost under the seedlings so that the compost heat adds to the solar heat to help even out the early spring temperature. Thus, when I move it into the garden, I’m going to make sure to dig a pit below the bottom of the box that I can fill with early spring compost.

One of the other problems that I noticed is that I’ve built the box sides so high that hey block a lot of the sun. Thus, that compost that I place within the box, next year, will raise the seedlings up so they get more light. That should be a good thing, we all know that everything needs light to survive!

Note that nearly every pea and bean that I started in the garden didn’t come up. Nearly every pea and bean I started in the cold frame is now climbing a pole, flowering and developing a pod. I’d totally call it a success and I still have to plant another flat of beets, two flats basil and one flat collard greens.

Can’t wait for ripe tomatoes!

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