Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cattle Panel: Cows Not Required

A couple of years ago I was searching the internet for do-it-yourself tomato cage designs because the funnel shaped cages that you find in home improvement stores are worthless if your tomatoes grow over a couple of feet tall.

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. 

16 comments:

  1. Can you explain about the hog ring pliers...never have seen those.
    Lowe's or Home Depot sells a version of this in a lighter gauge metal coated with green plastic. I secured it to my fence for vines to climb. Works great.

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    1. The hog ring pliers have indentions to grip the hog rings. The indentions are positioned in such a way that when you squeeze the pliers to close the hog rings, the ends of the hog rings cross each other. Sometimes I need to use regular pliers to further close the rings.

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  2. Sweet idea! I'll have to consider that next season.

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    1. These are industrial strength cages. They may never need to be replaced, unless I replace them with a different design.

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  3. Cattle panels have so many good uses. We're using them to fence out the deer in a small area of the garden and eventually one will top an arbor or arch.

    I like your ideas. They look just right in a Texas garden.


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    1. Cattle panel, it ain't just for cows any more. And it matches my stock tanks, too. Consider galvanized electrical conduit if you need stakes for your cattle panel.

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  4. We make tomato cages from concrete reinforcing wire - same general principle. Sometimes we make them square; sometimes we're lazier and just form it into a circle. If we let some of the branches of the tomato plants grow through the sides, we don't have much problem with the plants "sliding down". Your cages look more finished, though, with the galvanized wire!

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    1. I considered concrete reinforcement. It would be easier to work with than the cattle panel. I went with the cattle panel since it is slower to rust and I had a matching stock tank nearby.

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  5. Very neat cages. I love the panels made into arches with green beens grown on them. You can actually find the green beans since most of them are hanging down from the top.

    And in some Austin gardens, I saw these panels made into standing trellses. Three two-foot by 8 - 10 ' sections were hooked together to make a triangular trellis. Then they were painted bright colors. Looked great with or without vines.

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    1. I would like to incorporate a cattle panel arch into my vegetable garden. I am just afraid it would create too much shade for the surrounding plants. There are lots of things you can do with cattle panel if you are creative.

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  6. That is spot on genius! Love it, thanks. Since I didn't make it to this year's garden, I want to plan it all out for next time and this might just be something I need to have on the list. :-)

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    1. Cattle panel would be perfect for your little farm, 1st Man.

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  7. Of course, I used the old type and am having to support them with stakes! Good idea and very attractive to boot.

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  8. I use the hog panels with 4x4 squares, still 4 x 16. I'm using them as lattice inserted into wood and galvanized tin fencing. When I lived in San Antonio, Gardenwille used to sell tomato cages very similar to yours, except the edge squares were cut in half and rounded into a circle and each panels circles were brought together with a 18 guage wire going down the center of the side circles to hold together. I bought for of them and have had them for years and are still in great shape. They fold into one piece for storage.

    I also use them as horizontal plant supports for yarrows.

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  9. Those look wonderful! I am regretting buying my tomato cages we discussed previously ;). I love the paneling too - use it a lot around here as well. My latest - on the back of my wood privacy fence for vines - looks cool! Texas-style.

    I love your cages and may make some myself if I ever need more! Thx for sharing your design, Michael!

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  10. Great idea and nice tomatoes, too...I'm a bit envious of your asparagus bed, though.

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