Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Tomatoes are sort of the iconic backyard garden produce. Everybody wants tomatoes. Even early this year, January or so, folks would peak their heads over the fence to ask where the tomatoes were going and when they’d be coming in.

So, a few words…mainly on care and staking.

I have pruned the tomatoes in this garden hard. I pruned the plant so that there are only two main stems; think of a Y with the base-stem close to the ground. And then I have pruned back every “sucker” I see, so that the pattern of each stem goes “set” (where the tomatoes are), leaf, leaf, set (ish, if the plant goes leaf, leaf, leaf, set, that’s totally fine).

Honestly, I didn’t know much about tomatoes before this year. I had grown them before, they did ok; I knew about heirlooms, and that was about all the brain space I allowed this red fruit. But, this year, upon my visit to David and Kristy’s farm community, I was taught how to really take care of tomatoes. David walked me through this hard prune method, which I promptly took back to my garden.

The philosophy behind pruning hard this way is intuitive. All plants, especially fruit barring plants like tomatoes, need lots of sunlight to produce fruits with good sugar content—the stuff that make ‘em good. So, it’s best if sunlight can penetrate the leaf canopy of the plant. Pruning allows for this.

Air is the other thing plants need. Good airflow around a plant, with good sunlight, is probably the best disease preventing “medicine” a plant could have. Pruning allows for this as well.

What may seem counter intuitive, pruning a stem that would produce fruit, is actually intuitive when considering the health of the plant and taste of the fruit. I’ve only gotten comments on how sweet the tomatoes are so far, and not a single plant looks under stress.

The other big question of growing tomatoes is how to steak them; support them that is.

There are any number of ways to do this, but essentially there are four.

One, I’m sure we are all familiar with: the individual steak. Second, the cage. Both are used to support one individual plant.

A third, less familiar method is what I’ll call “the weave” method. It has some fancy name that I forgot. Anyway, the method came to the co-op by way of Tanna Comer, a certified organic grower on Eaton’s Creek road. All it entails is weaving twine in and out down a row of tomatoes. Placed intermittently throughout the row is some sort of stake, in my case I used T-posts, to tighten the twine to.

The fourth method I have seen and adapted to the garden in what I’ll the “greenhouse” method. What I have done is used bamboo (found on the side of the road in a throw away pile) to construct something like an A-frame. Two pieces are stood up, are crossed at a comfortable height, tied (I anchored each end with rebar), and then a long piece is rested in the crossing. The twine is tied from the piece resting across. I placed an A about every 15 feet.

I first saw something similar in greenhouses (that’s why I’m calling it the “greenhouse” method; a piece of twine would be tied to a cross-bar from the roof of the greenhouse and tied to the base of the plant. The tomatoes just climb up.

Upon trying a few methods I can safely say the “greenhouse” method is by far the best (for me that is). Space is a commodity in an urban setting. Urban growers have to maximize the use of that limited space. One interesting way (interesting because there are so many ways to experiment) is to grow vertical. The “greenhouse” method works perfectly for this. By using this method there are lots of possibilities for packing more plants into smaller spaces, and therefore getting a step closer to maximizing the productivity of the space.


StinaLMT said...

This is great info! I'd love to learn more about the garden! I just found the website & blog today! My husband and I hope to be moving into the Lockeland Springs neighborhood soon. Is there a time I can come by the garden to meet you and find out more info!?

Anonymous said...

StinaLMT- Yes! I work at the coop, too. If he hasn't gotten a chance to get back to you, feel free to give me an email at and we can set something up :) Welcome to the neighborhood

J-great usual. the letters mts would be honored to follow your name someday hehe. see ya soon