Saturday, July 30, 2011


When I first put those tiny tomato plants in the ground, it seemed impossible that they'd get big enough to fill their large wire support cages.  How naive.  I now have a certified tomato jungle in my smallish garden and am considering filing for status under the Rainforest Conservation Act.  Seriously, some days I half expect to find a howler monkey in there.  Since I am currently wishing my garden would produce more - not less - I suffered near cardiac arrest when I realized my husband had whacked (he said trimmed) the side of the tomato row that was threatening lethal takeover of our peppers.  After his trim (to be generous), it wasn't a couple of days before the untouched side began to lean...severely.  The mangle of vines on the opposite side was so heavy and loaded with plump green fruit that gravity was winning the war on those afore mentioned cages.  Fearing a second trimming, I took my jute twine and some bamboo poles and staked the cages upright.

Ah, but the battle continues.  Just this week, I noticed a slight increasing tilt to the left.  My cherokee purple refuses to be contained and needed to be tied to its black krim neighbor to keep from falling out of the garden altogether.  So now, I've tied cages to the ground, cages to each other and vines to cages.  There is no taming of the jungle.  It has a life of its own.

Since they are producing, I don't feel like I've failed the plants just yet, but there is some serious jimmy-rigging going on out there.  I feel confident there must be a better way.  So, I did what any self-respecting 33 year old does when faced with a problem.  I called my parents.  Yes, prune, dad says.  Yes, use twine to train vines.  Eventually, he says, you just have to let go and and let them grow!  

Here's what I've learned so far about growing tomato jungles:
  • Pruning is necessary for the health of your plant.  A tomato plant left to its own devices will not be able to maximize photosynthesis because the density of growth causes leaves to live in permanent shade, thus reducing the amount of sugar they can produce.  Less sugar equals less fruit.
  • Pruning also allows existing leaves and vines to dry more quickly, and keeps fungi and bacteria at bay.
  • Pruning away side shoots (appropriately called suckers) will help the plant stem to remain strong.  Suckers grow in the "v" between the main stem and the leaves.  If left, they'll grow flowers and fruit, which doesn't seem so bad.  However, lower growing suckers weaken the main stem, and those that grow higher on the plant receive less sugar and will themselves be weak. 
  • Appropriately pruning and tying vines helps keep the fruit off the ground and away from insects and rot. 
So, here's what I'm thinking.  Be happy I've got a good crop of tomatoes.  Be happier that next year I'll have more. 

Do you think Lowes sells machetes?

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