This year we are trying something new with our tomatoes in an effort to give ourselves a leg up on any potential diseases and gain some order before our tomato plants really take off. Things got a little crazy last year and we have learned the error of our ways. Tomatoes are the kind of plant that are better off being trained from the beginning. They are the puppies of the garden, they just need to be told what’s up from the very start. It makes life easier later on.
Staking tomatoes is an important first step to getting the most out of your garden. As the young plants began to gain height (about a foot tall), we drove 4-5′ tall stakes into the ground. Each plant got at least one stake. Using velcro plant ties that Ryan’s uncle (the one with the bamboo) gave us, we are easily able to tie our tomatoes to their posts. I’m obsessed with this reusable stuff.
The heirloom tomatoes will continue to be trained to grow straight up and all branches will be tamed as the plants grow. With the staking system we settled on, we have the option to add additional string from stake to stake to add more support if need be.
While we love the staking method, there are several ways to support your tomatoes. The most common way is to buy a store bought tomato cage. This works well but they don’t have a long life and can be a pain to store in the winter. For the DIYers, you can buy welded wire mesh or wire fencing and create your own tomato cage. This structure is nearly identical to the potato cage we made last year. A great option for raised beds or for a more permanent route is a trellis. If a trellis is something you are thinking about, Bonnie Plants has a helpful and inspiring guide here.
Giving your tomato plants a structure is just the first step to training tomato plants. The second is pruning. It’s important to know if you are growing determinate or indeterminate tomato plants so that you can decide how you want to prune your plants. Determinate tomatoes are a more tamed variety that have stems that grow to a specific length, produce for a short period of time, and require limited caging. Indeterminate tomatoes
are wild beasts have vine-like stem growth, can produce until the first frost, and require support.
As our indeterminate tomatoes have grown taller, leaves and new sprouts were clipped to keep any potential disease from spreading and increasing airflow. When watering, the plant is susceptible to diseases, such as blight, that might splash up onto the plant from the soil or other infected plants. Unlike determinate tomatoes, we wont be risking a decrease in harvest by doing a little trimming. You can still prune determinate tomatoes, but you will likely lose tomatoes that would have developed on the lower stems. With a shorter fruiting season, trimming determinate tomatoes is a gamble against disease.
With our staggered planting system, we have a few tomatoes getting ready to ripen while other plants are just starting to take off. It won’t be long before we are back in the kitchen canning tomato sauce for the cold months ahead. I can’t wait to load our pantry back down with this homemade goodness.