My tomatoes are loving the heat. Most of them I’ve planted at Strawberry Hill (our community garden) because we like to grow A LOT of them for canning. This year we planted about 30 plants—mostly romas. They weathered the cut worms and rains just fine and we finally got around to mulching, pruning, and trellising them this week. Ideally we would have done these things immediately after planting but life got crazy. June was the month of getting in all of our family visiting and trips so we could keep our schedules empty for the month before baby number two comes along. Now things have slowed down so we have a little time to catch up.
We use straw to mulch tomatoes. In a wet year this can lead to a lot of slugs. This hasn’t been an issue for us since we put it down after all of the rains. Some people don’t like straw because of the oat seeds that germinate and come up in it but they’re very easy to just pull up so I don’t mind them. Mulching tomatoes is a really good idea because you don’t need to water as much and, more importantly, it helps prevent blight. Blight is a virus found in the soil. When it rains and soil splashes up on the leaves of your tomato plants, and the virus infects your tomato plants. Blight causes leaves to get yellow and spotty. It starts at the bottom of the plant and works its way up. It usually doesn’t occur until a little later in the season when your plants have already set fruit. There’s not much you can do once a plant is infected, but all is not lost because you can still harvest your tomatoes. Other preventative measures to take against blight is to rotate where you plant your tomatoes from year to year and do not put infected tomato plants into your compost pile.
Everyone has different theories about tomato-plant maintenance. Some prune and some don’t. I’m a pruner of my tomatoes. I subscribe to the theory that the less green matter on the plant, the more energy the plant puts into producing larger tomatoes. Because I can tomatoes, I’d much rather deal with pealing and cutting up fewer larger tomatoes than a whole bunch of little tomatoes. Below I’ve posted a picture of how to locate the “suckers” on a tomato plant (those are the ones you want to get rid of). Once you get the hang of locating the sucker, you can do it by feel rather than sight. You just locate the main stem of the tomato plant and feel your way up. The first “branch” you come to you leave. The one you feel next, which is located in the “crotch” of the first branch and the main stem, is the sucker—pull it! If you keep going up the main stem you will locate the main growing point at the very top of the stem. You only want one, maybe two, growing points per plant. Suckers, if not pruned, will produce flowers and a second “growing point.”
At our community garden site we trellis our tomatoes instead of hauling 30 tomato cages to the site and storing them at our house over the winter. For our trellising system we just need a 4 ft. stake per tomato plant and a bunch of twine. We pound in a stake next to every plant, tie twine about a foot up from the ground around the first stake in the row, and weave the twine in front of and behind every stake and tomato. Then we do the same thing around 6 inches higher than the first layer of twine, this time weaving the twine so that if we took the twine behind the first tomato plant, we’ll weave it in front of the tomato plant the second time. As the plants grow, we add another layer of twine higher up the stakes. This is an inexpensive and easy way to keep the plants off the ground. For a visual, check out the included picture.