Todd’s Tomato Ladders: No More Lame Cages

by Todd Walker

Dirt Road Girl wanted something substantial to cage her tomatoes in our front yard. She hates those flimsy wire cages. Our backyard is full shade. We followed the sun and started food-scaping the font yard. There’s sunshine 8 hours a day out front.

She wanted something functional, sturdy, and of course, homemade. I made rolled wire cages last year from fencing. One problem with these cages was that they blew over during summer storms – even after staking them down in the container. We needed something anchored into the ground.

We had an old wooden ladder by my shop. I suggested we use it as a ‘cage.’

“That’ll work!”

Here’s what she came up with… for me to do!

Tomato ladder

Todd’s Tomato Ladder is not your typical tomato cage.

After a quick search online, she drew inspiration from Mother Earth News – Woody’s Folding Tomato Cages.

Keep in mind that these tomato ladders are going in our front yard. I printed Woody’s plans, gather lumber, and set to building. He calls for using 8 foot 1×3 lumber for the legs. I go to work.

8 foot is 2 feet shy of a regulation basketball goal.

8 foot tomato ladders are 2 feet shy of a regulation basketball goal.

It never occurs to me that erecting two “twin tower” tomato ladders in our front yard might draw neighbor’s ire. We try to fly under the radar as much as possible in our front yard food-scaping. These 8 footers would work in the country or a backyard.

I quickly build two of these bad boys, set them over the containers, and think, “wow, those sure are high.”

Painting your house, Walker?

Painting your house, Walker?

They lasted about a week after we noticed neighbors walking by with thought bubbles over their heads…

“What are they up to this year!?!”

Back to the drawing board.

I needed to shrink Woody’s plans.

Here’s the plan if you want to build our 6 foot model.

Bill of Material

Use non-pressure treated lumber to keep chemicals from leaching into your plants.

Four 1 x 3 boards 8 feet long

Two 1 x 2 boards 8 feet long

10 1/2 inch piece of 2 x 4 lumber

About 40-50 1 5/8 inch screws (I use star drive decking screws. It’s my personal mission to convert everyone to superior star drive screws)

Four 3 inch decking screws (2 will be used to attach the 2 x 4 to the legs – 2 will be used to attach the base of the legs to ground stakes)

Tools List

Circular Saw – If you’ve got a miter saw, it makes quick work of the cutting chores. But a circular saw will do the job.

Drill/Impact Driver

Hammer (for driving anchor stakes in the ground)

1/8 inch drill bit

Tape measure

Pencil

Skill Level

Beginner

Time Needed

30 minutes per ladder (that’s a generous estimate)

Cut List

1. Cut four 1 x 3’s six-foot long.

2. Cut one piece of 2 x 4 scrap 10 1/2 inches long.

3. Cut the 1 x 2’s for the rungs of the inside legs – working from the bottom of the ladder to the top: 19 1/2 inches, 17 1//4 inches, 15 1/2 inches, 13 3/4 inches, and 12 1/4 inches.

4. Cut the 1 x 2’s for the rungs of the outside legs – working from the bottom to the top: 21 inches, 19 inches, 17 inches, 15 1/4, and 13 3/4.

5. Cut two 1 x 3’s twenty inches long (use the extra two feet cut from the leg pieces). These will be the cross braces on the legs.

Putting it all together

If you don’t want to cut all your material ahead of time, that’s perfectly fine. Pre-cutting will streamline your build and save time.

Step 1: Stack two of the 6 foot 1 x 3 inch legs with the ends flush. Drill a pilot hole through one end of the boards with  the 1/8th inch drill bit in the center of the 1 x 3 about 3/4 of an inch from the end of the board. This is where you will insert a 3 inch screw into the piece of the 2 x 4 in a moment. Repeat the process with the two remaining  6 foot 1 x 3 legs.

Step 2: With two of the legs stacked flush, screw a three-inch screw through the pilot hole into the end of the 10 1/2 inch piece 2 x 4 stock. The ends of the 1 x 3’s need to be flush and centered (meaning about 1/4 inch of 2 x 4 exposed on either side of the 1 x 3) on the end of the 2 x 4. Don’t over sink the screws or you’ll spit the wood. Then attach the other two legs to the other end of the 2 x 4. This will serve as the top of the ladder and pivot point for the legs.

Step 3: Go ahead and drill pilot holes in each end of the rungs. Attach the bottom rung (19 1/2 inches) with one 1 5/8 in. screw per side – one foot from the bottom on the inside legs. Continue attaching rungs – longest to shortest – up the ladder with one foot spacing. Now, flip the ladder over and repeat the process for the outside legs starting with the 21 inch rung.

Step 4: With the rungs attached evenly, open the ladder and stand it up. Connect the 20 inch braces to the sides of the ladder. I attached mine at the second rung from the bottom. You can adjust the width of the ladder by moving the braces up for a wider base or down to make the ladder more narrow.

Step 5: Place the tomato ladder over your tomato plant. Drive a pointed wooden stake in the ground beside two legs catty-corner style. Screw the legs into the stakes to anchor them securely.

After the growing season, simply take one screw out of each brace, unscrew the legs from the ground stakes, and fold the tomato ladders up for storage. Or move them into your greenhouse for the winter growing season.

Note: I cut two feet off the top of our original “twin tower” tomato ladders to keep neighborly busy-bodying to a minimum. Here’s the finished product.

Todd's Tomato Ladders

Four of Todd’s Tomato Ladders anchored and ready with an old wooden ladder on the far left.

Friends don’t let friends use lame tomato cages! What’s your best method of caging tomatoes?

Here’s a non-related byproduct of building these tomato ladders…

3 pound bass

My fly rod and this largemouth bass ended my Saturday on a great note!

Keep Doing the Stuff,

Todd

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Categories: DIY Preparedness Projects, Gardening, Homesteading | Tags: , , | 19 Comments

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19 thoughts on “Todd’s Tomato Ladders: No More Lame Cages

  1. Pingback: DIY Tomato Ladders: No More Lame Cages - SHTF Preparedness

  2. Pingback: Todd’s Tomato Ladders: No More Lame Cages | Sensible Survival and just good information

  3. Pingback: Email Re: Todd’s Tomato Ladders | Survival Sherpa

  4. I have two ladders that are not usable anymore. So, that takes care of two tomato ladders. I can put tomatoes at each end of my metal swing and use those for ladders. Now, I don’t have to build anything or use short cages anymore.

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  5. Tina Ward

    Something for your wife to do: paint the ladders and then add painted vines and/or flowers so they look more “front garden attractive” to your neighbors : )

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    • We’re very natural looking outside. I think paint would take away from what we’re doing. No complaints yet. But then again, not too worried about my neighbors.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Like

  6. Tina Ward

    Another tip, cut the cross braces in 2 pieces, attach the 2 with screws in the center so the ladder will fold up for storage during the winter.

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  7. Pingback: It Takes a Village: 33 Awesome Projects for Preppers | Patriot Powered News

  8. I’m definitely putting this idea to use, thanks! Seems so obvious after seeing it, but I’ve long struggled with keeping my tomatoes properly controlled to keep them off the ground, and had never yet come up with a good workable idea on how to do it. This works. Sturdy and reusable. I just wonder how I might keep the feet of the ladders off the soil to make them last even longer and not rot, since my will sitting on unpaved surfaces in the garden.

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    • You could prime and paint them, Jack. One of our Doing the Stuff Network members did paint hers and added some color to her garden. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment!

      Like

  9. Pingback: Todd’s Tomato Ladders: No More Lame Cages | American Conservative Daily News

  10. Pingback: Made by Hands: Make it or Buy it? | Survival Sherpa

  11. Pingback: 12 Woodworking Projects for Preppers and Homesteaders | Ask a Prepper

  12. Hi Todd. I just found your site and have really enjoyed it, especially your no nonsense approach.

    I’m curious about the cost of these tomato ladders, do you have an estimate?

    I had considered making something like this in the past but I grow about 100 tomato plants each year, so I had been conscious about the cost and time as well.

    I really like what you have done here, these things are fantastic. Due to sheer volume, I decided to go with simplicity, rebar. I buy a 12 foot section, cut it in half and done. One 12 foot section makes 2 stakes and cost under $5, $2.50 a piece when cut in half.

    It seems to deviate from the “use what you have” philosophy, but sometimes you just need to do what you need to do. I spend a little money each year to buy a few of these and in no time I have enough for all my needs. They store in a small footprint and will last forever.

    Just another way of looking at things. Thanks again, I’m really enjoying your postings.

    Dave

    Like

    • Rebar is a great way to go. Buying it as you go stretches the expense over time as you said. And it never rots.

      Man, you’re growing some serious amounts of ‘maters, bud. The number of ladders you’d need would be expensive if you didn’t have access to really cheap or free wood I’m afraid. Our last crop of tomatoes, I build a bamboo A-frame and simply lashed it together with bank line. It worked well but did take some time to build. But the bamboo was free 😉

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      • Your bamboo idea is awesome. My neighbor started a small bamboo plot, literally a 1 foot high bunch from a flower arrangement. A few years later it is easily over 20 feet high and spread about 50 feet across. Yeah this stuff is invasive, but there are so many uses for it. Tomato cages, tripods for beans, peas, etc.

        Yeah I grow a lot of tomatos, but save most of it for sauces and dried tomato powder. If you have never had an omlet with dehydrated tomato powder….you don’t know what you are missing!

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      • I never have had tomato powder in an omelet but I bet is amazing. Do you just dehydrate and turn to powder?

        Like

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