More Tomatoes: Giving some support

16 06 2013

Our plants are in the ground; and though they may be small at first, they will eventually grow into amazing specimens with that desirable tomato harvest. This will be a thing of beauty: globes that are large, round and smooth; I just need one in my mouth for a taste. When the ripe orb touches your lips it’s just heaven. It is important to provide appropriate support for the girls, keeping them high and proud for the world to admire. Am I still talking about tomatoes? Um… yes, tomatoes.

Tomatoes need to be kept off the ground, away from the dirt, pests, and soil-born pathogens. How can we accomplish this?

Let’s explore four different categories of tomato support:

Posts/poles

Trellises

Nets

Cages

Poles are the easiest to place in the garden, but may require maintenance through the growing season. You drive the pole into the ground next to the Ms Tomato, being careful to stay away from the roots. Then just gently tie her to the pole, working your way up the main stem as she grows. Note that indeterminate varieties continue to grow throughout the season, and may outgrow a post if not long enough.

Just like me, this corkscrew post is twisted and fun...

Just like me, this corkscrew post is twisted and fun…

Just for fun I purchased some corkscrew posts to use in one garden bed this season. I’m sure the neighbors got some ideas if they overheard me talking about a screw in the garden or even a corkscrew in the garden. Either way, it sure makes gardening more fun. I just installed the post in the ground and gently wrapped the main stem around the corkscrew. Those limbs wrapping themselves around the pole is a thing of beauty.

In honor of Father’s Day, I am reminded of something comedian Chris Rock said. It’s a father’s job to keep his daughter off the pole. Of course he was referring to a different kind of pole. In our situation, it’s better to revise the quote. It’s a gardener’s job to keep the tomato plant on the pole.

Trellises are used in a similar way to posts. The plant is gently tied to the trellis as she grows. Some can get creative by tying up side shoots as well, having the plant grow flatter against the trellis. Have you ever had all of your limbs tied up? Trust me, the tomatoes won’t mind, either, as long as the ties aren’t too tight. What’s that? You haven’t had all of your limbs tied up before? How presumptuous of me. And I guess your level of enjoyment would also depend on whether somebody is tied up during a bank robbery, a kidnapping, or a third date. But I digress…

Trellis picture I "borrowed" from another site... I don't have a tomato trellis. This is for illustration purposes only.

Trellis picture I “borrowed” from another site… I don’t have a tomato trellis. This is for illustration purposes only.

Have you ever been to a vineyard? Think tomato plants instead of grape vines and you get the trellis idea.

Nothing but net... The netting underneath the tomato plant allows her to roam free while staying off the ground

Nothing but net… The netting underneath the tomato plant allows her to roam free while staying off the ground

By nets I don’t mean trellises, although netting can be used on a trellis. What I am referring to is netting installed under the tomato plant. The net is either in combination with a series of posts or the walls of a garden bed. It provides support for the tomato plant, keeps the fruit off the ground, but lets the tomato plant continue to grow au naturelle without other support. Using lingerie as an analogy, think of this growing method as the under wire shelf bra of the gardening world. And who said gardening couldn’t be exciting?

Now let’s stop my mind from wandering and get to my current favorite method of keeping the tomato plants up. Of course I am referring to cages. Time for the cage match, it’s a rage in the cage, starring Nicholas Cage… Yes, a cage…

Row of tomato cages... Aren't they pretty?

Row of tomato cages… Aren’t they pretty?

Why cages? Without them things can eventually get out of hand. Just ask Siegfried and Roy. Cages allow the plant to continue to grow upward without encroaching on other real estate in the yard or garden. The netting discussed above can lead to sprawl. You don’t have the continual maintenance of tying up the plant during the growing season, as with the pole or trellis.

Looks good in the right kind of cage...

Looks good in the right kind of cage…

Looks bad in the wrong kind of cage...

Looks bad in the wrong kind of cage…

You can purchase cages or make your own. It’s important to choose the best design for your garden. Some will look better than others. Kind of like a cage dancer… She may look hot on stage, not so hot in a holding cell…

 

 

 

 

I decided to make my own using a huge roll of 5 foot tall 14 gauge galvanized wire fence. I don’t think I would have succeeded without my bolt cutters and pliers. The assembly was a lot of work, but check out the results. The cage is basically a wire cylinder with larger holes created at different levels for harvesting. The cylinders have diameters ranging from 19 inches to 24 inches. All wires are wrapped into curves to prevent sharp edges. Keep things smooth and rounded for your comfort and the comfort of your plants. Send me a note if you would like more assembly details.

The openings in the  tomato cages invite your hand to explore the plant for a delicious harvest...

The openings in the tomato cages invite your hand to explore the plant for a delicious harvest…

I’m glad you took time to join me with my exploration of tomato supports. Remember to provide them with support, and they will reward you with a beautiful, and bountiful, harvest.

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T2 — TOMATO PART 2: Planting a few ideas

26 05 2013
tomato2

Less than 10 days from our last frost, and my tomatoes are growing. This picture is from May 25th in Central PA.

 

Did you ever have one of those days where you had only three things to buy at the grocery store? One thing led to another, and you ended up with two carts full of groceries, and a case of beer. Not a problem … until you discovered you completely forgot about the original three items on your list.

(Well, you remembered beer, so things aren’t that bad.[ Coming soon: why beer is good for your garden] ) But you get the idea.

The Tuh-MAY-der post Part 1 was kind of like that. There were so many things to say, that I missed a few tiny details. Such as planting.

 

What do you mean Dave? You said to plant them. Like, put them in the ground. Duh.

 

Well, sometimes how you do something is just as important as knowing that you need to do it.

 

The woman in your life asks you “Do these pants make my ass look fat?” Knowing how to answer the question is even more important than knowing that you need to answer in the first place.

 

Anyway, here are a few things to remember when planting tomatoes.

flasher1

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. No trenchcoat needed for this trench
    Don’t dig a round hole. Make it more like a long trench
  2. Deeper, baby! Deeper!
    Dig the hole for the tomato deeper than you intend to plant it. This helps lighten the soil and aerate it. The roots don’t have to work as hard to get to nutrients and water

    manuremartini

    A manure martini? None for me, thanks, but the plants would love to have one.

  3. You’re full of manure… with a twist of lime

    What’s that supposed to mean? Have you been drinking?
    My sobriety has nothing to do with this…. I love you, man….Woooooo!!!
    No, what this means is you should be adding compost to the soil mix in this hole
    I may use composted manure, among other types. As for lime. Add it to the soil for calcium. Calcium deficiencies can cause blossom end rot. Don’t lose your crop to something easily prevented.

  4. sideways2c

    Tomato planting- Illustrated

    This entire situation has gone sideways
    And so should your tomato. Remember the trench? Your tomato plant should be planted at an angle in this trench, closer to horizontal than vertical. Plant the stem up to the lowest leaves. (Don’t plant any leaves. The lowest on the plant can even be removed if there are sufficient healthy leaves remaining.) The stem will grow roots and add to the root system. The soil surrounding the root system will warm up sooner and grow faster

  5. How about a drink?
    For the plant, that is. Give it a decent watering after planting. Do not compress the soil when you water. You don’t want to cancel out the soil aeration from earlier.

 

With your feet planted firmly on the ground, and your tomatoes planted firmly in the soil, you can eat some Planters nuts then  go over to that special someone and plant a big wet kiss. Let me know if this planted some ideas.

Oh, and if you want to know what my favorite answer to the dreaded “Do these pants make my ass look fat” question, leave a comment on this post, and I will send the answer to you privately.

 

I hope that you enjoyed Part 2. Stay tuned for Part 3

 

 





Toe-MAY-toe, toe-MAH-toe, tuh-MAY-der… just shut up and pass the ketchup

18 05 2013

Let me sing praises to the tomato, that most wonderful fruit.
I mean, that most delicious veggie.
I mean… Ms Tomato, I hate to sound indelicate, but are you a fruit or are you a vegetable?

Ms Tomato pauses, then answers in two simple words. “It depends.”
What exactly does that mean?
Apparently, the answer to whether a tomato is fruit or vegetable depends on whether you are in botany class or in law school.

The botanists out there know that a tomato is the sexual organ of the plant, the ovary containing the seeds – definition of a fruit.

Off topic– Thinking about the movie site Rotten Tomatoes…
What would Hannibal Lecter have to say?
“Ms Tomato, I would like to eat your ovaries with some fava beans and a nice Chianti… FFFFF”

How about a fresh tomato, Clarice…

As for the lawyers, they know that the supreme court decided the issue in 1883. The case of Nix v Hedden was over that taxation of tomatoes. Vegetables were taxed by the Tariff Act of 1883; fruit was not. The court unanimously decided that it didn’t matter what the dictionary said. Everybody thought tomatoes were vegetables anyway, so they should be taxed.

Now that we solved that, it’s time for planting!

Next big question: start them from seed or buy the plants? There are benefits to both. Buying the plants is fast and easy. Starting from seed, on the other hand, is a lot cheaper and gives you a better variety.

Starting seeds indoors? Give them light… lots of light. (SEE Grow lights in the Basement) Keep the plants from drying out, but don’t over-water. For indoor seedlings, it’s good to get wet, but too much of a good thing can be fatal.

(Growing tip- periodically have a fan lightly blow on the plants. It will dry out the soil a little and will strengthen the stems.)

Seeds should to be started indoors 6 to 8 weeks before last frost, and transplanted after the last frost date. I ignore that advice and plant mine 12 weeks before last frost, setting them out when the forecast looks like frost is going to be rare.

You have to keep the plants from freezing. Think how long you would last if somebody froze your limbs every night. It almost destroyed Schwarzenegger’s movie career. Have you ever seen Batman and Robin? Arnold played Mr Freeze, one of his most cringe-worthy performances ever.

Image

This Ahnold killz plants. Hasta la vista baby!

Last week’s casualty of the big frost

Anyway, protect your tomatoes from Mister Freeze. One gallon water jugs work as a heat sink to keep the plants a little warmer at night. Place three around the plant. The sun will warm them up in the day. They will give off the warmth at night. Be sure to cover the tomatoes with garden fabric or mini hoop house when there is a threat of frost.

I hope PART 1 was as much fun for you as it was for me.
PART 2 is coming soon.