I am trying an experiment this year–one variety of tomato; two methods of training. The variety is called Santorini, and it was passed along to me by the kind folks at Skyfire Garden Seeds out of Kanopolis, Kansas.
The experiment is utterly unscientific, of course–one of the plants is staked up in the home gardens and the other is unstaked and growing on landscape fabric in the field. That means the soil, light, moisture, and heat conditions are utterly dissimilar. But the results are still of interest to me.
I only ended up with only two plants of this variety from my tomato-starting this spring, and one ended up fitting at the end of a row in the field–the other was destined to be the singular tomato plant I grow in the home gardens (you know, besides all those volunteers I keep hoeing down).
The one in the field is healthy and bushy and starting to sprawl. There are flower clusters, but no real fruit formation yet. The possible issue I see with the field-grown plant is that the weight of the vines coming out of the main stem may cause some breakage–I’ve seen that in one or two of the other field-grown tomato varieties already–mostly the thick-stemmed slicing varieties so far.
I’ve got a little over eighty tomato plants in the field this year–I usually shoot for one hundred plants, but with all of the other crops I’ve got out there (something like 35-40 at last count), I decided that the number of tomato plants I could reasonably fit in the space I had allotted would be enough. I wasn’t going to tear my hair out about it.
That said, it’s kind of nice to have just one tomato plant at home. It allows me to keep a closer eye on it–to really pay attention and see what kind of a harvest I can get. It also allows me to prune it in the fashion that many greenhouse and hoophouse growers do.
I tend to have way too many tomato plants in the field to prune and stake them methodically, as I am doing with this one. Instead, I end up lashing their bounteous limbs to vertical trellises (that restricts airflow a bit, which can lead to disease issues) or letting them sprawl on their mulch bed.
I’ll admit I like the sprawl–I like things a little bit wild and uncontained. Only the cherry tomatoes are being lashed to trellises this year because they’re easier to pick that way.
I like my back too much to crawl along the ground picking hundreds of tiny tomatoes–and with an indeterminate cherry tomato plant, hacking off a few renegade vines doesn’t cut into overall production noticeably.
The home-planted Santorini is pruned to two vines–many greenhouse growers prune to just one vine and wrap twine around the stem to secure the plant to the rafters as it grows (cage-free tomatoes!), but I wanted a little extra foliage to keep sunscald to a minimum–seeing that there’s no plastic “roof” to filter the light.
See that shoot coming out of the joint between the main vine (stem) and the leaf-stem? Right between them? Those are the ones that are pinched out–they will make another vine.
You should only do this kind of pruning with indeterminate tomato varieties–the determinate or “bush” varieties will grow only to their genetically pre-determined size, stop, and then ripen their fruit in a relatively short span of time. You don’t want to prune them because you’ll get fewer fruits.
The indeterminate varieties will just keep growing and forming more vines, more foliage, more flower clusters and fruit until frost or disease kills them. If you prune them, they’ll put more energy into growing the vine or vines they have left. That’s going to end up being the problem with my home-staked Santorini plant.
It’s almost to the top of the four-foot cage, so I’m going to have to lash another cage to the top of this one and then figure out how to buttress the whole thing, so it doesn’t fall over.
It’s only July, and this plant is growing an inch or more a day. We have close to three more months of prime tomato-growing weather–I’m beginning to look at the roof to see if there’s a way to lash the vines to the gutter. Then I’ll need a ladder to pinch out the extra vines.
And this is the reason greenhouse growers use twine to wrap their indeterminate plants–when their tomatoes get too tall to manage, they can loosen the twine from the rafters and coil the bottom of the stem on the ground–effectively shortening the vine for picking and pruning purposes.
I might be able to figure out a way to remove the cage and rethink my strategy at this point, but it is, after all, an experiment–I can just let it grow beyond the top and flop down the sides if I want to. Or lash it to the roof and let the extra vines come as they will. Or I can hack off the top and force it to ripen what fruit it has formed.
In any case, it’ll be worthwhile to measure the timing of fruit formation and ripening, and the amount of fruit each plant forms. Comparing which one ends up being a better producer and/or more disease resistant might give me some ideas about what to do with future plantings, and that’s the whole point.
Well, that–and the eating!