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Urban Farmer: You won’t really believe this, but it rained tomatoes in the garden, custom cages helped

By Ginger Dawson
NKyTribune Contributor

After a few months dealing with a few complicated business issues (closing an antique mall that was in business for 23 years — the Intrepid Urban Farmer has returned to the NKyTribune. . .

Even though I was not writing about gardening, I was indeed doing it. It was the thing that kept me sane this past summer. Any moment I could salvage I spent in my garden.

The season started off typically. I had everything done the way I wanted it. All of the techniques of gardening that I like to practice were in place. Soaker hoses, mulching with two layers of newspaper covered with straw, good plants supports — all the bells and whistles.

Speaking of bells and whistles– you should see my tomato cages! I designed these babies and my father had them fabricated for me. It was an entirely suitable Christmas gift from a farmer to his obsessed urban gardening daughter who clearly has a hefty dose of his DNA.

My tomato cages are seven feet tall. Four standards of 5/16 iron rod joined by six eighteen inch diameter rings spaced equidistant were welded together and then powder-coated John Deere green, naturally! The rods sink into the ground one foot. They are incredibly stable. They do not blow over, ever. I thought about this design for two or three years. I have ten of them. It is nirvana.


This design supports the tomato vines easily and does not constrict any of the vascular systems in the plant. I believe tying vines somewhat inhibits growth. It is also easy to pick tomatoes, as there is plenty of room between the rings to access the entire plant. Even my Burpee Steakhouse hybrid tomatoes (which can weigh a couple of pounds apiece) were easily supported.

And lastly, but very importantly, the powder-coated surface is easy to disinfect with spray bleach on a paper towel. It is very important to be clean with your plant supports and tools. Blights and certain funguses can overwinter on your tools and supports and gladly infect the next seasons plants. When you are gardening in the same place for years on end, this becomes extremely important.

Don’t compost bad stuff

And note, do not compost any of your diseased plant trash at the end of the season: no blighted tomato plants, no withered squash vines, and no zinnias with powdery mildew. You will need to carefully bag it up and set it out for the trash. Very few compost piles get hot enough to disinfect this stuff.

Now, I know some of you fledgling gardeners will be somewhat daunted by the extra work that this clean business insinuates into your gardening chores. I certainly was.

I had been gardening for a few years and all went swimmingly. Then, into it a little longer, I noticed PROBLEMS. Tomato plants withering. Peppers getting odd nodules at the base of the stems and occasionally wilting. What was this?

Well, I had been at this game far too long to just throw in the towel. Like so many other things in life, trouble is the first sign that you’re in too deep.

Trouble. You can either walk away and save yourself, or you can start an endless journey where the right answer is just around the corner. But in gardening you can never catch it, because today’s right answer will be tomorrow’s starting point on another challenge.


Now, this is just a heads up. I’m in too deep. You don’t have to be. Step away while you still can.

If you are still reading this…… welcome to the gardening geek society.

In gardening, when the going gets tough, the geeks start reading. So, I started my research. Books, magazines, other gardeners and that great dilettante’s treasure trove, the internet, were my sources. I found out a lot. I found out that gardening was going to be taking a lot more of my time than I had counted on.

Not for sissies

I do not have any clever, easy answers or short cuts to this dilemma. I had to be clean. All tools, plant supports, seed starting trays, pots, etc…had to be disinfected. I just simply had to suck it up and do it. I know this is hard candy. Gardening is not for sissies.

If you ever wondered why certain greenhouses will not accept used pots to recycle, this is the reason. They are worried about disease and funguses being introduced into their operations.

Now, this account of my new, easy-to-disinfect tomato cages has caused me to deviate from their real benefit (I guess I harbor more resentment for the added work than I realize). High yields! Holy tomato (forgive me), did I have high yields!

It is no secret that, in past years, I have kept records of my tomato yields. The first year I did this, I simply counted the number of tomatoes. Then, I found out that the proper way to do it was to weigh the them. Since I had originally established a numeric count, I continued with that too.

In 2014, if memory serves, I had a per plant yield of twenty-six pounds. I was very pleased with this, as I had discovered that a good average yield was twenty pounds per plant.

This year, PULL OUT ALL OF THE STOPS!! Remember the tremendous amount of rain we had? Incredible! I never had to turn on the soaker hoses once. I was actually afraid that my plants were going to drown.

Well, they did not. If fact, they did not suffer at all. I always wondered if my garden was too wet. This past summer, I definitively discovered that the drainage in my garden was excellent. I had nineteen tomato plants; ten different varieties. I had beefsteaks, romas, early varieties, a couple of heirlooms and cherry tomatoes. They all thrived.


And for 2015, here is the final count. It is unbelievable! I harvested 1595 tomatoes weighing in at 687 pounds, 5 ounces. I was dumfounded by this. I had a per plant yield of 40 pounds, 6 ounces. (Cherry tomatoes were not included in these counts.)

Unbelievable results

I almost hesitated printing these results lest you think I am lying! I have the daily counts and weights documented. I can prove it.

August eleventh was the highest yielding day. On that date, I harvested 60 pounds! Mid-August seemed to be the time when this batch of plants hit its stride.

I am certain my new tomato cages contributed to this success. That, and all of that rain.

I am very proud of this achievement, but I am somewhat saddened by it, as well. It’s like being Michael Phelps with his twenty-two medals. It was just too much, too fast. Have I peaked? Will I ever be able to repeat it? I AM a little older and have been at this for quite a while longer, but still. A quote from Thomas Jefferson comes to mind, “But tho’ an old man I am but a young gardener”. Focus on the “young” in that quote, please.

Now, the garden is no place for such existential angst. Fortunately, I am a pathological optimist and am therefore naturally buffered from such nonsense. I’m already thinking about next year’s garden. If I can just figure out how to get all of that rain back, I think I can do it.


Ginger Dawson, the Intrepid Urban Farmer, has lived in Covington since 1988. Raised on a farm in South Central Ohio, she has enjoyed an eclectic and enriching life. She loves her Italianate Victorian Townhouse and particularly the garden behind it. Being a serial entrepreneur, Ginger has been engaged in many successful projects over the years: real estate, retail, antiques, art, etc…with gardening always being the constant. And now, she writes about it. She is a graduate of Miami University and The Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. Email:intrepidurbanfarmer@fuse.net

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  1. Kate Gallion says:

    God Save The Queen’s garden!. Tomato lust in November. (I wonder what she does with that all that tomato booty)?

  2. Ginger says:

    Hi Kate! Usually, I make sauce and can tomatoes, etc… This past year I was way too busy for that. I did get two or three batches of sun-dried (oven, actually) off, but the rest were given away far and wide….whoever crossed my path.

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