Welcome All! I'm a dreamer, I hope you are too! A Posse ad Esse, or From possibility to reality, is a general state of mind. I hope you'll share your possibilities with me as I will with you. Namaste~

March 31, 2009

Answer to the tomato question

Well I asked you to ask and Eric took me up on it. His question was this:

I'm curious about your tomato growing method. I think you planted your tomatoes close together (1 ft) and used your trellis system for support. What have been your experiences with growing indeterminant tomatoes in this fashion? Can you talk a little about pruning specifically for your growing method?

Well Eric, here goes. Yes, I do grow my tomatoes in very close proximity (1 sq ft), and yes I am very big on trellising. Too leave it at that would be making the process too simple though, so let me explain. In the pictures above and below, there are two sections of tomato trellising. The one above is the box that is in the back, the one below is in the box in the middle in case you weren't sure. This is last years trellis that I tried out. I didn't like it, and am modifying my framework trellis system to have a center beam that I can hold tomatoes on for this year, but this illustrates the method just fine.

I do grow the tomatoes in 1 sq foot of garden space, but I have thus far only grown indeterminant plants and they take to this very well. Generally speaking a tomato plant can grow just fine in 6 inches of soil in a square foot but the reason they don't is because if they're not trellised they require greater rooting space for structural support for themselves. With the tomato plant trained to a trellis, the support needs are met and the plant just needs to grow. This reduces the space needs of the roots. For training the tomato to grow up, I use a rebar stake that I notched with a hack saw and tie a string to. I stick it in the ground right next to the root ball and then tie the string up to the top of the overhead beam, whatever that is. As the plant grows, it naturally gets "leggy" at the topmost part. As this get's long enough, I just gently wind it around the string which stays in place. You don't want to weave it too tightly or it will strangle the plant, just let the plant know where the string is and guide it around. Here's a close up of one of my San Marzano plants and you can see the string with the plant wound around it.Now, here's the caviat. This works well for indeterminant tomatoes because they have a natural vineing tendancy. Determinant tomatoes do not. They are more naturally inclined to bush and produce a lot of fruit for one harvest than to continue to crank them out over time. This year we are going to grow a good selectionof these types as well, and I will not be trellising them. At least not like the other ones. I may work out a loose cage type thing or something, but I am not going to worry about them getting tall. It's not in their nature.

As for pruning them, I do make sure to prune them pretty consistantly. This isn't directly related to trellising, at least not in that I need to do it to get them to grow up or anything. The reason I prune is to maximize the yield as well to limit exposure to diseases. The basics are to pinch off all suckers. (These are usually the branch looking stems that crow out from the crotch formed by the leaves and the stem. They rarely set fruit and if they do it is usually inferior. Secondly, I trim off any old or dying leaves or leaves that touch the ground. Many of the blights and pathogens that tomatoes get, come from soil contact. There's a lot of good resources online if you'd like more info.

I hope this at least points you in the right direction Eric.
Good luck to you!


Eric said...

Thank you for the tips. I'll be expanding my gardening efforts significantly this year so the advice is appreciated. The things I came away with from your post were to pinch out the bottom leaves for disease consideration and the stake in the ground to firmly secure the string near the base.

I'll also be trying your idea of planting "sun-shy" plants like lettuce and carrots in the shade of the sun-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, melons and squash. You posted some pictures on that a while back. I don't mean to totally hijack your blog...but are there any "lessons learned" that you can pass along in regards to this?

Thanks again.

j.c. said...

Would you ever grow tomatoes with the type of trellis that you're growing your beans on?

I am planning on putting up this type of trellis on the 4'x12' box that I am currently building.I was hoping to grow tomatoes, beans, and squashes mixed in this box, in the way that you are growing your beans. I'm a little worried about the tomato plants getting enough sun but I thought I'd give it a whirl.

I do plan to grow lettuces and carrots and other plants that can take part shade in the shade of the trellised plants.

Kory said...

I trellis too and once the plant gets far enough along I remove all the foliage below the first set of fruit. The theory being improved air circulation and no chance of any of the lower vegetation dipping into the ground. Also, by grandpa always insisted that you twist off the suckers and low branches. Cutting (since you are likely using the same knife for multiple plants) can potentially spread disease. The twist action is to keep from ripping the outer layer of the stem.

Wendy said...

Thank you for posting this information. I've been planning my trellising system based on yours, and if my plants look half as good as yours, it will be a huge improvement over my past experiences ;).

Steph said...

Great question, great answer! Are there any specific online resources that show tomato pruning visually? I need to see that sucker.

risa said...

A century ago tomatoes seemed to all be indeterminate and photos in gardening books of greenhouses show each plant, on about a 16 inch grid, or even all in pots, each going up its tall stake like a columnar apple tree.

With ZILLIONS of tomatoes.


Darren (Green Change) said...

What do you do when the tomatoes get to the top of the string? Do you just cut off the growing tip?

Pamela said...

Geez your so GOOD at this!

I have to just read, and re-read your stuff over adn over again as your words and pictures have inspired me to no end.

After reading you last week, I put up my beans yesturday and was so proud of my self for using materials i had for trellising. I lost my baby dog this past xmas and I used the plastic fencing I used to keep her in the yard. I know it will be a while before i get another baby, so it was just rolled up in the corner.
It was very cleansing to RE-USE her fencing for somehting that will grow.

So thank you so much for your great advice.
I will put up pics on my blog to show you later. (if I get brave enough!)

Now that being said, I am quite embarrased at how I just planted my tomatoes! They are about 6 inches apart. Yikes. I will have to read up on the Early Girl variety. (I am not as knowledgable as I would like to be)

Thanks again!
have a great day

P~ said...

Kory~ I usually just pinch my suckers off when they in the 1-2 inch range so it's not a problem, but that's a really good point about the disease spreading.

j.c. I just wrote in my new post that I would grow them on the trellis like beans, I should say that I would grow them on the same type of trellis, not on the SAME trellis. You're right, I would worry about light too.

wendy, share your trellis pics with me if you can... email is on profile.

risa~ Good point... I've seen pictures like that too. Hmmm I wonder if they were all indeterminate?

Pamela~ You just made me blush. Thanks so much. I hope something I write, or talking about one of my failures helps someone out somehow. Thanks again and good luck, I'll be checking for it.


j.c. said...

Just a clarification - so you would not plant a mixed box of tomatoes, beans and squashes? You are recommending that tomatoes be the only trellised crop in the box?

Thanks for your help on this! I really appreciate the detailed answers you are giving. The pdf on growing tomatoes from the Colorado Master Gardening program is a fantastic resource.

Chiot's Run said...

I also prune & trellis mine. They do get quite tall, mine were well over 7 feet (I couldn't reach the tops withouth a ladder).

Also if you cut the tops off a month before frost it encourages all the tomatoes on the vine to ripen instead of the vine using it's energy to grow.

P~ said...

j.c.~ I try to never say I would never do anything in the garden. It's my little lab and I'll experiment with all new kinds of ways of doing things. The potential issues that I would watch for if growing them all together is the closeness, (how big is the bed?) and that the tomatoes got plenty of sunlight. If you planted them on the south end of a garden bed so that they got plenty of light and kept the beans from chiking them out I don't see why it wouldn't work. Just about anything is possible if your willing to put in the effort to maintain it.

Good luck, have fun and take notes so you don't forget what you tried.

Scott said...

Terrific trellis idea. I will be constructing a couple of these for my 4x4 raised beds which will have beans and tomatoes in them (separate of course). I would like to add one bit of don't do that info...I had some 1x2's lying around and did construct one trellis for my snow peas to climb on. I don't see this one lasting very long as 1x2's will split when screwing them together and just are not sturdy enough. Spend the extra buck or so for the 2x2's. Ahh, the joy's of live & learn. ;-)