So, I accidentally put the cart before the horse. I planted some of my tomatoes in the ground without giving them any support. Now, they are flopping and sprawling all over the ground — not good.
No matter. I found a solution.
As my husband was trimming all of the dead tree limbs off of some of the trees on our property, last week, I asked him to save them for me so that I could fashion more tomato cages out of them.
Cages are my favorite way to support indeterminate tomatoes (the vining type that continue to grow until the first frost). They are easy to construct, provide a lot of room for the plants to grow, give sturdy support, make it easy to harvest the fruits when they come into season, and can be used again and again, saving our family a lot of money over the long haul.
I fashioned these in the same way that I made my grape stake cages, using four – six-foot long tree limb, and twelve – two and a half foot long branch sections. The cross bars are wired to the uprights, and the bottoms are buried about three inches in the ground.
I was debating whether to prune the tomatoes, once they get to the top of the cages, or let them sprawl over the tops. After reading a Fine Gardening article , I think I have my answer. According to the author, Frank Ferrandino, “About 30 days before the first frost…the plants must be topped. The fruit that has set must be given every opportunity to mature.” Why? He says that, “Removing all the growing tips directs all sugar produced by the plant to the fruit.” Yet, he admits (and I heartily agree), “This can be hard to do, as every gardener is reluctant to admit the season is coming to an end.” (Uh, yeah!) He fully captured my attention, though, with his final statement, when he said, “This final pruning can make all the difference between hard, green fruits, hurriedly picked before frost, which later rot in a paper bag, and ripe, home-grown tomatoes in your Thanksgiving salad” — Oh, man! I know exactly what he’s talking about — been there, done that! So, I guess I will heed his admonishment, “Be tough, fight [my] nurturing instincts, and top those plants” this year!
How about you? Do you grow determinate or indeterminate tomato varieties? What system do you use for support? Do you top your tomatoes at the end of the season, or let them continue to grow?