My search led me to this post on GardenWeb which shows how to make garden arches and vegetable supports our of cattle panel. The wheels started turning and cattle panel became my favorite farm store product.
This year I am growing tomato varieties Porter, left, and Sweet 100, right. These are two tomato cages I built last year. The cages are over six feet tall and the vines are growing out and over the top. These are prototypes for the cages I will eventually build. In the meantime, these work fine. Here is how I made them:
Cattle panel sections are 16 feet long and four feet high and are available at most farm stores. I got mine at a chain farm store in McKinney. If you bend the panels end to end into a teardrop shape and tie the ends with wire, you can slide them into the bed of a standard pickup truck. Watch out when you take them out and remove the wire.
Cattle panel can be cut to size with bolt cutters. The smaller 14 inch bolt cutters work OK, but the larger 24 inch cutters give better leverage and make cutting the thick wires much easier. The cut ends are rather sharp, so it is a good idea to smooth them off with a grinder.
My cages were initially four feet tall. Two sides of the cages were cut two squares wide and the other two sides were cut three squares wide.
It is hard to tell from this photo, but I removed the bottom horizontal wire between each vertical wire with bolt cutters. This creates spikes on the bottom of the cage that can be stuck in the ground. So far, that is all I have needed to keep the cages from falling over. If the cages ever get too top heavy and start to lean, I can attach a stake or two to the cages.
I attached the cut sections together using hog rings. The open hog rings are closed using hog ring pliers.
This photo shows a hog ring joining two sides of the tomato cage. The hog rings remain a little loose which allows me to fold the cages flat at the end of the growing season.
Last year I quickly discovered that four foot high tomato cages are not tall enough, so I added an extension to one of the cages. The extension brought the height to a little over 6 feet. I got around to extending the other cage this year. This photo was taken 05-02-13.
Something else I discovered last year was that I needed some internal support for the tomato vines. Once the plants began to set fruit, the weight of the tomatoes caused the vines to slide down inside the cage. This year, I placed a scrap piece of cattle panel inside the cage and it seems to have done the trick.
This was a very good year for tomatoes. I picked quantities of tomatoes similar to this every couple of days for several weeks. The tomatoes in the glass containers are frozen. I had to start freezing them because there were so many.
Eventually, I will build new tomato cages. When I do, I will cut the sections of cattle panel lengthwise so I will not need to add an extension piece. I think 7 foot tall cages should be sufficient.
This year I made an asparagus cage to help confine my second year asparagus plants. In May, the asparagus shoots were beginning to fall over and block the pathways between my vegetable beds.
I cut four lengths of cattle panel and placed them around the asparagus bed. I thought I would need posts to help support the asparagus cage, but all I did was wire them together with galvanized wire.
The wire will be easy to remove at the end of the season. This will allow me to store the cattle panel sections and remove the dead asparagus shoots.
This is the side yard on the west side of the house and driveway. It is also my last patch of lawn. Once it is gone, I think I may add cattle panel trellises with a vine (maybe green beans or gourds) to help shade this wall from the western sun. I am also thinking about a location for a cattle panel arch in the vegetable garden.