Gardener: In pursuit of the ultimate tomato support; lesson learned

growingagreenerworld.comJuly 14, 2014 

In my last column I shared the story of a gardening disaster that happened to me many years ago. It changed everything about how I garden. For over 25 years now, I've been an organic gardener, due in large part to that single experience.

Even then, I was a credentialed and experienced horticulture guy - plenty of academic knowledge and years of practice to go with it. But I'm also human. And therein lies the problem. That's why I'm a big supporter of fearless gardening; trying things in spite of the fact that you may not have a complete handle on what you're about to do. And yet you do it anyway.

Rather than never starting as so many would-be gardeners do, fearless gardeners dive in and hope for the best. More often than not, the rewards are great. Yet, realistically, there will be many learning opportunities that come from these cavalier adventures.

And that's the key. It's OK to have results that don't measure up to your hopes or expectations. As long as you learn from those precious learning moments, you are successful.

So in the spirit of sharing personal gardening challenges for the benefit of saving others from the same mistakes, I offer another story from my archives. Yet this one happened just this week. So from the department of "do as I say and not as I do," allow me to share my latest learning experience with you.

STAKING MY BEEFSTEAK TOMATOES (AND MORE)

The weight of a loaded bunch of full-size tomatoes growing from the plant is a lot. With countless methods and systems devised and improvised over the years to support them, the common denominator to a good 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 experimental staking systems I used this season in trial bed of indeterminate tomatoes (the ones that keep on producing and growing all season) is 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 plant 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. Fail!

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 then broke. That led to branches breaking under the weight, often pulling other branches down with them. Without the necessary lateral support, full plants buckled under the burden.

THE FIX

At the first opportunity, we restrung the weave with nylon bailing line (virtually indestructible), repositioned the wayward branches and pruned away damaged limbs. 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 meantime, 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.

The moral of the story is: If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. I've used many different methods over the years to provide support to my tomato plants with mixed results. Since I haven't found the perfect solution yet, I'm always trying new methods. Either you're going to love what you find, or find that you don't. Since I'm still in the latter department, I'll keep trying, and sharing with you what I find. Here's hoping I find the ultimate tomato support. If I do (or don't), I'll keep you posted either way.

Joe Lamp'l is the host and executive producer of Growing a Greener World on national public television, and the founder of The joe gardener� Company, devoted to environmentally responsible gardening and sustainable outdoor living.

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