Torquemada v2.0 - Pruning and Staking

This winter, Arti returned to visit Spain. That country of savvy eaters introduced the tomato to Europe. However, the tomato is as American (as in continent) as the Aztecs who gave us its name. Given that, we feel some sense of ownership and want to share our ideas on pruning and staking (get it? Inquisition?).

Before going into into particulars, a quick review of why it matters to keep a tomato plant upright and properly pruned:
  • Disease control - Plants with leaves that are upright and uncrowded dry off faster. This decreases leaf damage, fruit rot, and contact with soil pathogens.
  • Fruit production - Leaves need sun to produce the sugar that feeds the fruit (which my father bought for 2 zuzim...). So a properly staked and pruned plant will maximize sun exposure: leaves are not left to be slowly mashed into the soil, or to grow numerous enough to shade each other.
  • Plant productivity - By managing the number of growing stems, the plant will continue to send its valuable sugar to producing fruit, not more stems.
Pruning - All of our heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate. Therefore, the primary pruning objective is to restrain willy-nilly stem production. The optimal plant has evenly distributed stems of approximately similar thickness. This happens by managing sucker growth. Either snip off the sucker at its base or remove the top part, leaving the last 2 leaves. The second method is what you'll have to resort to if sucker growth gets out of hand, and it will not stop additional suckers from forming.

Suckers emerge from the "V" formed by the main stem and the leaf. They will produce flowers and fruit just like the main stem and start to occur from the bottom up. They will impact the strength of the main stem, and suck energy from the rest of the plant. We are still experimenting, but one method suggested by The Urban Farmers is to remove all suckers from below the first fruit cluster:

"Indeterminate tomatoes can have from one to many stems, although four is the most I'd recommend. The fewer the stems, the fewer but larger the fruits, and the less room the plant needs in the garden. For a multistemmed plant, let a second stem grow from the first node above the first fruit. Allow a third stem to develop from the second node above the first set fruit, and so forth."

Staking - Supports help tomato plants grow upright (see reasons mentioned above) and to hold up growing fruit clusters. The best material for ties is pantyhose; Arti is donating her leftovers from her corporate life; you can use anything similar that is soft, but preferably "green". There are basically 2 devices to use for supports:
  • Cages - Kelley has had close encounters with retailed tomato cages. It seems that as soon as her back was turned, the plants heaved their cages across the yard with a "is that all you got?" attitude. Therefore, cages are not being used this year.
  • Stakes - Get a non-chemically-treated, 6-foot, 1x1 diameter, wooden stake with a pointed end for each plant. Remember to buy sustainable harvest, please. Drive the stake at least a foot into the ground within a week of planting to avoid disturbing the roots. Gently tie the rising stem to it at fruit clusters or a bit above points where the stem looks likely/ready to topple.

BTW, we are approaching the end of our tomato plant crop (see left-hand frame). However, we have lots of gorgeous peppers, and will be adding planting, maintenance and recipe information on them very soon. Just as soon as it stops raining...