Monday, 24 May 2010

Chronicles of a New Garden: staking tomatoes

by Francesca

gardening tools 2
~ photos from last year ~

My tomatoes are finally going in this week. Finally, because I got the seedlings about three weeks ago, but spring temperatures this year forced us to wait, and tomatoes love warm weather. In fact, they only thrive in warm weather (temperatures not below 15-18C), and the year I planted two batches of plants 5 weeks apart, hoping for a second tomato harvest, I found that it's far better to plant a little late than a little early: I harvested my second batch of tomatoes well before the first, which never really recovered from a long cool spell in the spring, and were stunted.

tomato flower

Do you have a favorite vegetable to grow? Tomatoes are definitely mine! I love everything about growing tomatoes: the long and abundant producing season, the visual impact of the dark green and lush looking plants with their little sun-gold flowers and their shiny red fruits, and especially their strong tomatoey smell on my hands, after I've finished cropping the suckers and tying the plants to their supports. Tomato plants are in all senses exuberant plants!

grape tomatoes

This year I'm only growing two varieties, partly for lack of space, but also because I'm concentrating on the the two varieties that we enjoy most: date and beefsteak tomatoes. I'd never heard of date tomatoes until last year, when I unknowingly planted them instead of the cherry tomatoes I thought I'd bought. I was very pleased with their intense flavor and firm texture, and my kids love them, even snacking on them straight from the vine. Beefsteak and date tomatoes are indeterminate, vining varieties - rather than determinate, bushy tomatoes - and their vines need support and pruning as they grow.

staking tomatoes

We use the staking technique that all the local farmers use, which is very simple and makes use of the canes that grow wild around here (or that can be bought very inexpensively) to build effective A-frame supports. You dig a trench about 50cm wide and 15cm deep, and plant tomato seedlings in pairs on opposite walls of the trench. Next, stick a cane into the soil beside to each tomato plant, and tie the corresponding pairs of canes together near their tops. For added stability in the wind, link the pairs of canes together by running a wire along their joined tops (as in photo) or, even better, lay another cane horizontally across the joined tops and tie in place.

Aside from being very inexpensive, this technique combines the trench method – tomatoes need a lot of water – with a simple and stable trellis system that leaves the plants easily accessible for plant care and harvesting.

What growing techniques do you use for your tomatoes?