Hal Zimmermann is a fun loving entrepreneur who has dabbled in a number of business ventures. He is a teacher, writer, and part time philosopher.

“I really enjoy the intersection of work and hobby,” says Hal, “when work becomes play, that is when I believe we are all at our best.”

One of Hal’s businesses has been working on an effective and affordable staking system for tomato cages. He has developed a number of ways to support tomatoes, including using railroad ties and wood-built trellis systems.

“Store bought circular tomato cages just don’t do the job. Most of those cages are flimsy at best and are only 2 or 3 feet high. They can’t support the weight of a fully grown tomato plant. These plants can be 6 feet high and have 30-40 lbs of tomatoes on them,” Hal states. “Under that stress, the store bought cages collapse.”

Hal tried the “Stake A Cage” system, but found that was a short-lived solution.

“This system works okay once you get it setup, but it takes a long time to assemble each cage. If you’re just doing 1 or 2, its okay, but if you’re doing 20 like me, it’s going to take you a few hours to get all the cages built.

“The other problem is the wood stakes rot. Half of the cages I put into place only lasted for one season. So, now I have to buy new stakes and replace all of those.

These days, Hal is working on a better version of the staked cage where the mesh would be welded to a metal rod. “The nice thing is this would be a permanent solution. I’m looking to create something that I can sell as ‘This is the only tomato cage you’ll ever need.’ And I’d offer a lifetime warranty. That’d be a big seller, I think!”

What is your hobby?

Gardening is one of my favorite hobbies. I also enjoy biking and golfing.

How did you get started with this hobby? What inspired you?

Several years ago, I decided I wanted to take more control of my diet. The first year, I grew kale, cucumbers, and had a couple tomato plants. My dream was to get to the point where at least 50% of what I ate came from my garden.

The problem was I needed more room to grow food. My neighbor suggested an emtpy plot of land adjacent to his house, so we made a deal that I would do all the work and he would supply the water. We share all the food.

Tell us what you love about it.

I love the solitude of working in the garden. It might sound silly, but I like being my own boss out there. I plant what I want and get to can a lot of food. Aesthetics are important to me, too. I like to keep things organized. Often, I’m weeding the grass in between my rows because I want to keep things clear and looking nice.

Of course, it is satisfying eating food I’ve grown from seed.

Are there any groups you’re a part of or events that you attend related to your hobby?

I’m not currently part of any groups, but I have been in the past. I joined a neighborhood initiative that was helping to grow food on empty lots in the community where I live. I helped them find their first plot, right across the street from me.

Unfortunately, the leadership of the group was not organized too well and things sort of fell apart after a year.

Have you had to invest in equipment and if so, please share some of the things you’ve bought.

I’ve spent money on wood, compost, irrigation equipment, seeds, and Sluggo, But it is well worth it; I enjoy the work and love knowing I’m putting my own food into my body.

Where do you buy most of your supplies?

I get most of my wood at a local discount wood wholesaler. Hardware and irrigation supplies come from Home Depot and I’ve gotten compost delivered from a few different suppliers.

Are there any good books for beginners?

I purchased the book, “Growing Food West of The Cascades.” It is excellent. It covers all aspects of gardening and goes through each plant, explaining how to cultivate it.

One of my favorite parts of the book as the author’s assessment of the best crops to grow per dollar per square foot. The answer is herbs! They are provide the greatest ROI with the space needed.

How has this changed your life?

I feel better and psychologically, this is very important. Many times, I think how grateful I am for being able to do this and to feed myself from my own toil. Plus, the hobby has filled a lot of time that I would otherwise be screwing around with my computers.

What advice do you have for others starting out with this hobby?

I would suggest jumping right in and trying it! A lot of people I’ve met over the years say, “Oh I have a black thumb – everything I plant dies.” Well, I don’t believe anyone has a “black thumb.”

I think you just need to keep trying – it could be bad soil or disease, or maybe bad seed that is preventing you from being successful. Worst case, you could always take a class, but everything I’ve learned in the garden has been through trial and error.

Are there any other hobbies you have?

Yeah, I play softball a couple times a week and really enjoy chess.