Introduction: How to Quickly Build a Hot-House Tomato Cage
You can get your tomatoes (and other vegetables) into the garden earlier using a hot-house tomato cage design.
As an avid gardener, I like to challenge the frost dates and take pride in getting tomatoes out early into the garden. Each year I have red tomatoes in May. That isn't bad in my Zone.
This is an easy and inexpensive project any gardener can do.
The video provides instructions for a quick and simple design. The pictures demonstrate a slightly more complex design using a milk container as a night time heat source. They are both easy to create.
It is important to make sure you keep the top of the cages open when the day temperatures reach 70 degrees and the days are sunny or partly sunny. The hot-house cage could over heat and bake your tomato.
Tomato planting instructions can be found at my gardening blog: The Rusted Garden
Step 1: Hot-House Tomato Cage Supplies and Preparation
The supplies for this enhanced design include:
1. A tomato cage
2. Plastic wrap
3. A milk container
4. Black spray paint
6. Tomato plant (but I think you knew that)
This is a modified design that allows you to get your tomato into the garden, even earlier, than the basic hot-house cage shown in the video. The main difference is that you are wrapping the hot-house tomato cage from the bottom (while in place) and you are including a radiating night time heat source.
The main preparation can be seen in the photographs. You have to spray paint the milk container black and fill it with water. Dark colors absorb heat better from the sun. The water will hold the heat from the day and radiate it out during the night, adding a few extra degrees of warmth for frost protection. The milk container should be placed next to the cage as shown in the picture. The prep-work is now done. Time to wrap.
Step 2: Wrap the Hot-House Tomato Cage
The video showed you how to over-lap the plastic wrap to ensure a tigh seal. You should follow the same process with this cage but you start from the bottom. Try and make a tight seal to the ground. Don't worry too much about the ground contact because you will also seal the bottom with earth or mulch. Notice that the milk container gets wrapped into the design.
Work you way up the cage and press the plastic wrap together as you move upwards. The plastic wrap functions as a wind barrier and containment system to keep in the heat. Tomatoes love the heat. They are warm weather vegetables.
Step 3: Seal the Top of the Hot-House Tomato Cage
This is an important step to make sure the integrity of the hot-house cage stays intact. Notice I left several inches of plastic wrap hanging over the top of the cage. The top over-lap should be tucked down into the inside of the cage. This is needed to make sure the wind doesn't blow gaps into plastic cage.
You are almost done and this is what it will look like minus the top cover.
Step 4: Finding a Top Cover for the Hot-House Cage
The top of the a cage can be created in several ways. The easiest method is to use a board or plate that covers the entire space. Heat rises and any gaps will let out the heat. The key to the top is making sure the wind can't blow it off and that there are no gaps between the board and cage.
The top should be 'put on' late afternoon to seal in heat and protect the plant at night. I mention earlier that it is extremely important to remove the top cover of the cage when the days break 70 degrees and you have full or partial sun for the day. The cage has potential to over heat and literally cook your plants.
Step 5: Creating a Top Using Plastic Wrap
You can create a top with plastic wrap by attaching 3 or 4 foot lengths of plastic wrap to the cage. You do this twice to create a full top. The width of plastic wraps typically on creates 1/2 of a top. Wrap the plastic wrap several times around the top of the cage and leave several inches of wrap above the top of the cage.
You roll out about 3 feet of plastic wrap and cut it. The extra 3 feet is used to form the top. Press the several inches of plastic wrap left around the top of the cage down inside the cage. Gently press the 3 foot length (of extra wrap) into the body of the cage. You would peel the 3 foot sections off in the afternoon and drape it over 1/2 the top of the cage as seen in the 2nd picture. You just pat the lid into place.
This isn't as hard as it may seem because the plastic wraps clings to itself. With a little practice you can form 1/2 the 'lid'. You just move the 3 foot section into place and press it down into the body of the cage.
You repeat this process two times to cover the entire opening.
I personally found that using plastic wrap and a board works best. The plastic wrap creates an nice tight seal and the board keeps it from moving.
Step 6: Seal the Bottom of the Hot-House Cage and Water
The last step is to seal any gaps at the bottom of the cage with mulch, compost or earth. You want to bottom of the cage sealed in so the cold air you are trying to keep out doesn't creep in.
And finally with most garden work... water your plant in well. No picture needed.