I think that one of the favourites of most gardeners and something that surpasses all tastes from the supermarket version are tomatoes. They can be grown indoors, or out if you are lucky with the weather however, no matter where they are grown they will run rampant if the weather is right.
Last year, (the year of baby) I planted seedlings that I had purchased from Victoriana around May and they grew like crazy. I employed the ‘do nothing because we have an all-time-consuming newborn’ method of staking and training the tomatoes and we still got a tonne of fruit. The vines did end up in the neighbours tree and over the fence so this year I am trying to see if it makes a difference to actually curtail them.
The other reason for training is the fact that I have more plants in the same space I had last year. I will use the string method to train and contain them up the fence so we get a number of trusses to ripen before October. Last year I cut the vines down in September and collected bowlfuls of green cherry tomatoes. However, we did not get many large salad tomatoes and I think that is because they grew leaves like crazy and instead of fruit.
Since we have a new fence with palings crossways it is easy to attach string to them for this purpose. The first suggestion I would make is to do this early as the stem is very pliable/bendable; later the stem will be solid and stiff. I left it a little while and the tomatoes were already falling over and cramped with stems. Also, if you do it early then you hopefully will only have to deal with a little bit of winding, and not so many leaves or especially flowers that could break off.
Start by attaching a string or other line to the base of the plant – if the plant is really tall and has already forked then just do it from there. Choose a line that is thicker so that it does not cut into the stem – a thick twine would be best (I used what I had already) a fishing line would be worst.
Try to tie the string around the stem with some space between the knot and stem. Maybe with a slip knot or a piece of Velcro so that it can be adjusted, I made the mistake on the first one of tying a straight knot and I think as the stem grows the string will cut into it.
Once you have tied the string around the stem then the other end is tied above the plant. It doesn’t have to be right now, but eventually you will have to tie it as high as you want the plant to grow as the string is what will be keeping it upright. I tied them up with very little slack, if you tie with slack in the string you will just have to wind the string around more times before it is supporting the stem.
There are suggestions that once the plant reaches the top you can remove the lower leaves and lower the whole plant down so that the stem is curved onto the ground (perhaps even cover with soil to allow more roots to grow). This gives you more space above especially in a greenhouse if you wish the plants to keep growing and create more trusses (a truss is one set or bunch of tomatoes)
There are two kinds of tomatoes according to their growing style; determinate and indeterminate. Determinate grow to a certain (‘determined’) height and stop growing, sometimes called bush tomatoes, they will tend to grow and ripen all their fruit at once, perhaps better for making tomato sauce or such where you need a large number of fruit at one time. They need support but don’t need the suckers or side stems removed because will produce fruit and all grow to the same height.
The indeterminate tomato will grow in height for an indeterminate amount of time i.e forever if weather allows – that’s how mine ended up in the neighbours tree. They are the ones that will keep growing trusses throughout the season until the plant is killed by frost or lack of sunshine. The trusses that create fruit late in the season may not have time to ripen so you will be left with a lot of green fruit. I didn’t find this a problem as I just made chutney with them.
In UK the advice seems to be to stop an indeterminate plant from growing when it reaches a certain number of trusses. The theory is that the season is short so if you stop the plant from growing then it can ripen the fruit before the season ends. In hot weather areas or longer seasons, gardeners are not as concerned about this, this year I might try it just to see what difference it makes. The bigger the tomato the less trusses are suggested; beefsteak about four or five and cherry tomatoes perhaps six or seven depending on your weather and plant size.
As the tomato grows all you need to do is wind the string around the stem tip around once a week (check grow more often in height of summer) and it will support itself. The debate of removing side shoots rages on but I have decided to choose a middle ground and allow three stems to grow on each plant. If I get adequate fruit I will stick with this but I can always allow more side shoots to grow later in the season. This you have a tall greenhouse or high string attachment you might want only one stem.
Choose the number of stems you wish to have and attach the string to those chosen. Then when any other side shoots or growths/suckers appear you can just remove them when you are winding the stems around the string. If you decide you want more stems just attach another string and continue with the method.
This method can be used with vining type of cucubits to save space; melons and cucumbers have side shoots similar to tomatoes. I think that is the reason I got no melons last year as I had a very long vine with lots of different stems on it and many melons but they were all tiny. The plant didn’t have enough energy to concentrate on one thing (such as good size fruit) so I lost out. This year I will put the melons and vines of cucumbers and squash up strings and make sure there are not too many leaves at the sake of the fruit. This can also be done just by attaching the string to the top of a stake or pole and winding up that way.
Have you tried this method before? Would you rate it a success or failure – have you tried it with other fruits? Any suggestions I have missed to improve the technique?