When your spring-planted tomatoes start to sprawl it’s time to give them the support they need to produce large fruit throughout the season. Last year we staked all of our tomato plants by sinking a six foot rebar post and giving it a 1/2 inch PVC sheath. Staking large, often seven foot plants, can be time consuming and awkward. So, this year we are trying the trellising system.
Strength is an important consideration when you are planning a structure to support plants with 1-4 pound tomatoes. We started with 5 foot heavy-duty fencing posts and placed them about every 5-6 feet. Then the fun part of placing the wire fencing. It is like wrestling with a metal octopus, no, two metal octopi. This particular fencing has 2X3 inch openings. You will need this size or bigger so vines can comfortably go from one side of the fence to the other.
Here is a view of the tomato plant from the other side of the fencing. The flowering stems have already put themselves through the wire. I started by pulling the long arms of the vine up individually and attaching them to the fence with paper coated wire ties. I don’t use plastic tape because it stretches too much over time because of the weight of the fruit. We give each arm about 2-3 inches distance from the fence and tie securely. You will need to go back frequently and tie up new arms as they grow. Weaving the vines through the matrix of the wire is another way to support without ties.
This picture is a great illustration of several things that need to be addressed at this time in the tomato’s growing cycle. Starting at the bottom of the plant notice a lack of leaves and their color. The leaves at the base of the plant are cut off to prevent disease transmission. Also yellowing and brittling of the lowest leaves is normal in the cycle. They are old leaves, the first to support the young plant through its growth. Once a canopy has been developed, they are shaded from the sun and start to wither. Cut them off. Judge your plant’s health by the new leaf growth, not the old leaves growing at the base.
When the main stalk of the plant is about an inch thick it is a good time to add a good mulching of some organic compost and a handful of organic low nitrogen fertilizer. This will help to boost the plant well into the fall. Now that tomatoes are starting to appear and grow it is time to decrease the frequency of watering. Right now I am watering every 3-4 days for about 1/2 hour. As tomatoes start to ripen I may decrease the frequency by 1 or 2 days more. This helps to prevent cracking of the fruit. Another tip to prevent cracking is to water in the evening as the day is cooling off. Never water midday. That is a sure way to rupture the skin of the tomato. Note: This watering schedule does NOT apply to container grown tomatoes. Because they are pot bound and the roots are subject to overheating keep any potted tomatoes on a 2-3 day watering schedule. DO fertilize and compost mulch these plants if their stalks have reached 1 inch in diameter.
Our pest management for the tomatoes is done with something we call The Three B’s, Basil, Borage and Birdnetting. The herbs are interplanted with the tomatoes and are great for keeping the hornworms and cutworms at bay. The birds patrol from above and the netting helps to prevent all those little holes they make in the skin. One comment about borage, it self seeds and can be invasive if you don’t keep it under control. It is easy to pull from areas where it is unwanted if you do it when the plants are small. It is a beautiful plant and the bees love it.
This is the cherry and small tomato part of the farm. You can see large pole trellises to the right of the picture and these are for cucumbers. Our pepper growing area is to the back. All the smaller tomatoes are just supported with stakes and that seems to be working. Their maximum height should only be about 5 feet.
Hope this is helpful information for your tomato growing at this time of the season.