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TexasMadness Profile
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Pruning and trellising tomatoes


I've grown a few indeterminate tomatoes in the past but have mostly stuck with the easier determinate varieties. What's the difference?

Determinate tomatoes are a new comer on the scene. Breeding programs have developed a bush type tomato that has a *determined* height and produces much of their fruit at once. This is great for commercial operations, home growers that use containers or home canners that want to process all the fruits at once.

Almost all heirloom varieties are indeterminate - they just grow and grow and grow. They bear fruit usually for the entire growing season, which in temperate climates stops at first frost (or a little longer with protection). This is good for small producers that want a steady flow of fruit as well as home gardeners who don't want to deal with a single glut but instead just want fresh produce for a lengthy period.

The farm typically only grows heirloom indeterminates. They TAKE OVER the garden and become unwieldy beasts by the middle of the summer. We've tried various trellising techniques but usually it's too little, too late. I happen to be sensitive to tomato plants and get a rash when poking around in the bushes. It's most likely just because the plants are fuzzy/prickly and not because I'm actually allergic to anything. It's quite common. And it makes it a pain to dive into a thicket of the plants.

So this year, with the new garden at our house, I'm determined (no pun intended!) to make tomato harvesting a simpler job. I did some research and settled on simple pruning and basket weave trellising.

Pruning the tomatoes involves removing the 'suckers' that sprout from every place the stem forms a branch. Here's a picture of my tomato:

Image

A lot of people refer to this type of pruning using the three-finger rule. If you hold your hand up with fingers spread: the main stem (which I'm holding on to) is your middle finger. The branch is your thumb. The 'sucker' is your index finger. That's the part to prune - I've marked two in red on the photo. If you don't prune it, it will turn into a whole 'nother main stem. This is how the plant turns into a giant bramble.

Some folks prune to one "leader" (i.e. just the main stem) or to several. I decided to go with three leaders. I started pruning when the first flowers appeared - they are at the top of the main stem. I left the first two suckers (such as the ones in red) and pulled all the rest off. Now those suckers are big stems themselves, each producing their own flowers and suckers. From now on, I pull ALL suckers off I see.

Hopefully this will keep the plants somewhat reasonable. It also makes for a smaller number of tomatoes as there aren't as many fruit bearing parts, BUT, each tomato will be larger in size because the plant's energy isn't divided amongst so many fruits.

And onto the basket weave! It's a simple method of placing stakes every few plants (i decided on every two plants) and then 'weaving' tomato twine around the posts several times, then one side of the first plant and the other side of the second plant. Then around the post a few times. Repeat down the row. When you get to the end of the row, you go on the OTHER side of the plants, thus pinning the plants between the two strings. You should start when the plants are small...but of course I waited too long. By the time I got around to it, I had to do 3 levels already. I'm doing them about 6" apart.

Image

Here's a great video that shows you how to do it. I didn't get the nifty official tomato twine and am instead using baling twine because it is about a third of the cost. Let me tell you, it was a NIGHTMARE getting the baling twine done because it unrolls from the middle so you can't use it the same way. Took 2 people and lots of cursing. Next time, I'll shell out the few extra dollars for the official stuff!



I'll keep you updated on how this develops!

Last edited by TexasMadness, 5/10/2012, 4:21 pm
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Saijen SilverWolf1 Profile
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Re: Pruning and trellising tomatoes


good lookin mater plants!!!!

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TexasMadness Profile
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Re: Pruning and trellising tomatoes


Saijen, do you guys grow determinate (bush) or indeterminate tomatoes? Do you do any trellising or caging? I'm trying to figure out the best way to go about this...

The system seems to be going well. We need another layer on a few plants but it was sprinkling last night so couldn't get it up. Hopefully tonight!
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Re: Pruning and trellising tomatoes


Texas, I'll be real honest and tell you I have no clue which ones are which..lol.

The types we usually grow are Mr. Stripey, Beefsteak, CandyCane, Yellow,

Either way, we always cage any tomatoes we grow to keep the fruit off the ground. Sometimes, DH will simply place posts about every 4 feet or so, then run some waxed cotton line like fencing...about 4-6 strands...and he'll weave it through the tomato plants. Our plants are tall enough yet to cage or do the line, but it's almost like he's braiding the plants with the cotton. The posts are actually just about in line with the plants..they are offset just enough to allow the plants enough room to grow without being too restricted.

I wish I had a photo to show you what I'm talking about. It's kind of hard to explain.
If you are growing a tomato that only grows 3-5 feet, a cage may be best. It's hard to find ready-made cages for larger plants...but you can do them out of chicken wire if you want cages.
DH just like doing the cotton line because it's cheaper, and you don't have to worry about rust. The waxed cotton lasts all season without having a problem with rain or sun making it weak.

Good luck!!!

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TexasMadness Profile
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Re: Pruning and trellising tomatoes


Sounds like you do mostly determinate...which is really so much easier. Not sure how I got talked into doing so many indeterminates this year!

I'm finding the pruning to be a challenge on certain varieties. The growth habit of the brandywine is super easy and I never miss a sucker. But the salsa and wapsie I'm constantly missing them until they are full grown branches with blossoms open. It's too damaging to remove them at that stage!

I have a few young ones with that same weird growth and I've trained those to just ONE leader this time. I'm sure I'll miss some, so I'll end up with several main branches anyway. But I'd rather have 5 than 50!

Still haven't pulled in a ripe one yet...but boy are they getting close!

Image

Starting in the upper left and going clockwise:

Salsa
Brandywine
Wapsipinicon Peach
Green Zebra

I still have Amish Paste, Romas and Montesino (a grape tomato) that haven't set fruit yet!
5/24/2012, 4:59 pm Link to this post Send Email to TexasMadness   Send PM to TexasMadness
 
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Re: Pruning and trellising tomatoes


Very nice lookin maters!!!
Some of our tomatoes are starting to bloom, finally, so hopefully we'll have some setting fruit very soon.

The corn has finally broken through the ground and is about 2 inches high..maybe a bit more. Also have a squash coming up in the corn! LOL... it's from last year! emoticon That's OK...I'll take them any way they wanna come!!! emoticon

---
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~~@Saijen@~~
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WanderingMomma Profile
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Re: Pruning and trellising tomatoes


I was out cleaning up storm debris this morning and found the little plastic marker from one of my mater starters and found myself wondering what "determined" meant. Lol! Thanks for clearing that up for me!

We only have 2 plants this year since we moved mid spring and had to go with starters. Very gratefull for pruning ideas! Will put them in my gardening journal!
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TexasMadness Profile
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Re: Pruning and trellising tomatoes


I harvested my first tomato this morning! A Wapsipinicon peach! It's not 100% ready - I like to grab those when they have just colored all over and let them ripen inside. Just a few days!
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Saijen SilverWolf1 Profile
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Re: Pruning and trellising tomatoes


Love sitting tomatoes in my window sills to finish ripening, but we have to watch how many we do that with. Fruit flies are HORRIBLE around here, and they'll make a tomato go rotten before you can bat an eye!

Congratgs on your first good mater! So far, still just onions and radishes...nothing else is ready yet!

---
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~~@Saijen@~~
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