Seedybeans Blog

Celebrating the Humble Harvests of High Desert Homesteading

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Growing Up- Staking and Pruning Tomatoes

Tomato harvest a few years back, this year hoping for even more!!


We are going for it this year in the garden.  We made a big investment in compost, drip tape and mulch, as well as time, effort & love.  In exchange I am really hoping to yield some serious garden bounty.  We now have 85 tomato plants out back, over a dozen varieties, in our newly dug garden.  We have planted, mulched and now it is time to stake so we can actually get at that fruit.  We planted pretty intensively, as the garden is freshly dug and filled with lots of compost, we well as tons of leaves and Straw.  Technically we could just let the tomatoes ramble all over the ground, which some people swear by,  for easier harvesting and better use of space we will trellis.  Trellising also keeps those precious fruits away from pests and robbers.  There are lots of ways to do so and gardeners love to debate about it; Towers, Cages, Remesh, Twine, but guess what I picked….Yep you got it, Willow.

Lots of fresh-cut willow

Remember my willow fence, well the willow patch by the river just keeps giving and actually the more I prune it back, the better the yield.  I harvested, yes, 85 tall thick straight willows, (it is a lot but the patch is huge and it barely makes a dent, I am always careful to wild craft gently and respectfully) I will use one for each tomato plant.  The inspiration, you see was Italy……

The Cinque Terre, Italy

We were there a few years back attending Terra Madre,

Proud Bean Farmer at Terra Madre

an international gathering of Slow Foodies, which is totally amazing and really worth learning more about… but more than a food tourist, I am a farm tourist.  I love nothing more than seeing the gardens of a place, touching the soil, smelling the blooms.  In fact I plan on reporting back here in my own personal column about my garden tourism, but that will have to wait for a rainy day….Back to tomatoes…..Here are some trellis’  we saw while traipsing the Italian countryside.

Tomatoes in a hoop house in Tuscany, Italy
Tomato trellis in Tuscany, Italy

Seems to me the basic idea is just one vertical stake per plant with one strong cord across the top holding them all in place. So with 85 willow, some Cedar Posts, and tie wire, this is our Whimsical version of Italian style tomato staking.

Willow leaning in on one tie wire line pulled tight between cedar stakes

Now when you grow intensively like this you generally prune tomatoes as well.  I will be training each plant up one stake and will be pruning to one main stem.  Here is a video I found that explains this well from Fine Gardening, another twist on this is from Johnny’s Seeds which includes twine weaving for trellising.  Tomatoes don’t NEED to be pruned, but if you are growing intensively it is good idea, just to avoid too much vegetative mass rubbing against each other creating opportunity for disease to spread as well as encouraging the plants to put their energy into fruit rather than shoot.

Each plant is tied to it’s stake with reused bailing twine, don’t throw that stuff out, it is good & strong, and lasts for years and years!

So there you have it, Let’s hope they grow up well!


Transplanting Tomatoes

I just posted all about the does and don’t of transplanting, but I want to add something about tomatoes, they defy our rules!!   Most Santa Fe gardeners as far as I know, grow or buy tomato starts, (planting them from seed in the garden after May 15th rarely yields fruit).  They take a long time to really get going and love hot days and cool nights, so greenhouse grown starts are really the way to go.  If you have tomatoes that are tall, leggy and spindly, they may have not been getting enough light in your window sill.  But not all hope is lost, as tomatoes are incredibly adaptable and can be brought to life in the field in a magical way.

Strength is at the top, bottom leaves don’t look so good.

Tomatoes are what is called adventitious rooters, meaning they will sprout roots from leaf nodes if they are exposed to soil.  This is due to a hormone called Auxin in the stem.  Light kills Auxin, but when it is buried under ground it works to stimulate root growth, which means…you can break off the bottom leaves of the tomatoes, leaving just a few a the top

Pinch off lower leaves with clean fingers nails, or very sharp scissors, gentle now, don’t just pull leaving open tears in the stem!

Now make a nice deep hole,

Place it in there gently by the roots, I am holding the stem to show where the ground is level to, I would never carry a plant by the stem!! And neither should you!

and bury the tomato all the way up to the top leaves

Now it is nice and strong and won’t be toppled by the wind

out of where you pulled those leaves off, roots will grow!

Don’t forget to make a moat around it to catch water.

Nice moat for catching water

Also you may have noticed in the pictures that this little guy had developed a flower in the greenhouse

Clean pinch, goodbye flower

So I just pinched it off before transplanting.  A plant needs to get good and strong before thinking about reproducing.  More flowers will come when this guy is big a strong and can support fruit.  So there you have it.  Tricky little tomatoes, but oh so wonderful.

I had big plans of planting all 70 of mine Sunday, but the blessing of rain slowed me down, not only is it wet work to plant in the rain, but mucking around in the garden in the rain creates a mess and can compact the soil badly.  Better to wait a couple of days to let things dry out and get back to that ‘moist as a rung out sponge’ feel.  Works for me, I will harden them off and plant them this Friday or Saturday– both are fruit days FYI!!

P.S. After I wrote my whole post on transplanting, I came  across a similar article in Organic Gardening, so if you still need some guidance, they mention a few things I left out, they are the pros after all! Happy Planting!

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