This season in the garden, we’re all about growing vertically. I’ve shared how we’re keeping our raspberries upright. Today, I’m talking tomatoes.
I love training my tomatoes to grow tall. They take up less space in the garden, and I think they’re also more productive due to increased air circulation, better sunlight and less contact with the dirt.
Since moving to the farm, I’ve used various methods to stake or cage our tomatoes, but this year for the first time we had space to build a proper trellis. This method is not new for me. I learned from how my Dad grew tomatoes in his garden.
I used 2x2s to build a frame. Matt hammered three 2×2 posts into the ground leaving about 8 feet between each post. The posts were about 5 feet long, and he hammered them in about a foot, giving us a final height of roughly 4 feet. Then we screwed 8 foot pieces of 2×2 across the top of each post. This gave us rows that were 16 feet long.
Here’s a photo from back in the spring of the trellises in place.
We then planted our tomato seedlings underneath the trellis. Once they grew about a foot tall, it was time to tie them up.
Using twine, I tied a very loose knot around the base of the tomato stem. It’s important that the knot is loose as your tomato plant has a lot of growing to do, and you don’t want the twine to end up too tight.
I then wrapped the twine around the stem a few times, making my way up the plant. Leaving a bit of slack, I tied the other end of the twine to the 2×2 crosspiece directly above the plant.
From then on, it was about basic maintenance. Every few days, I’d walk the row and continue to wind the tomato plants around the string.
I’m also pretty vicious when it comes to suckering my plants. I remove the lower leaves plus any “suckers” that sprout in the crotch between branches and the main stem.
Suckering allows the plant to put its energy into producing fruit rather than more leaves and keeps the plants a manageable size. Suckering usually depends on whether you have determinate (bush) or indeterminate types of tomatoes. I always just assume I have indeterminate tomatoes and rip those suckers off.
However, we tried a new kind of tomato this year–Sicilian Saucers–and they did not take well to suckering. They kind of rebelled when I started pulling off their leaves, so I backed off and tried to let them do their thing a bit more.
I was still able to wind them up the strings fairly well, which is helpful because these plants and their fruit are super heavy. Our giant tomatoes would definitely be lying in the dirt if they weren’t supported by the trellis.
Now that the plants and the fruit are very well established, I did go through and clipped off a lot of the lower leaves. I’m trying to get a bit more sunlight onto the Saucers to encourage them to ripen.
As the plants have grown, some of them have exceeded the height of the trellis. I’m tying them along the top 2×2 and just trying to support them so the stems don’t bend or break.
So far this season, we’ve had a great tomato harvest. From the looks of our Sicilian Saucers we have much, much more goodness ahead.
Do you grow tomatoes? Are you into suckering or do you leave them alone? Have you ever tried to grow tomatoes vertically? What method do you use to trellis tomatoes?