From the Department of, “do as I say and not as I do”, I missed a great opportunity this year to try out my idea for the perfect tomato trellising system. Since it doesn’t actually exist yet, I’m not ready to share my plans with you until I have a chance to test it first. But it looks like that won’t happen until next year.
In the mean time, here’s what I can tell you. The weight of a loaded bunch of full-size tomatoes is a lot. With countless methods and systems devised and improvised over the years, the common denominator to a good support system is that it has to be sturdy enough to hold the weight and contain the height of the plant. This reminds me why I dislike the flimsy wire inverted cone things so much.
One of the systems I used this year in a trial bed of indeterminate tomato plants (the ones that keep on producing and growing all season) was what’s known as the Florida Weave. Tall sturdy stakes or fence posts at the end of the bed anchor rows of twine running horizontally along the plants at various levels. The idea is to weave the line between plants growing in a single row as a way to support and contain the sprawling branches. It’s used in commercial growing operations a lot.
When done properly it works well and is very cost effective. However, in our case, we experimented in one bed with using natural jute twine. Our hope was to get a full season out of it before it rotted.
I’m sure you can buy thicker twine but we picked ours up at the big box store in the economy size. The thickness (or lack of it in this case) combined with the natural degradable fiber and we set ourselves up for subsequent trouble.
No sooner had the tomatoes formed on the vine and developed decent size and weight when the load became too much for the string we used to provide the support. The twine first stretched and over a few days, ultimately broke. That led to branches bending and snapping under the weight, often pulling other branches down with them. Without the necessary lateral support, full plants buckled under the burden.
At the first opportunity, we restrung the weave with nylon bailing line. It’s virtually indestructible. I wasn’t able to find this at Lowe’s or Home Depot but did find it in jumbo rolls, sold in a box of two for about $30 at Tractor Supply. I repositioned the wayward branches and pruned away damaged limbs. With the help of my intern Kristin, we re-weaved all the plants–not an easy job after the fact. Fortunately, tomato plants are very resilient. Indeterminate varieties continue to put out new growth. In a couple weeks I suspect these plants will be good as new.
In the mean time, I took the opportunity to help my plants along by reducing some of the load. Removing a few of the large almost fully red tomatoes was in order and I wasted no time moving into action.
Here’s hoping your tomatoes get all the support they need. May you have a great growing season and an abundant harvest. And when you do, please remember to share the bounty with your neighbors in need. AmpleHarvest.org makes it easy to find a food pantry near you that will gladly take your fresh produce donations.