I’m not used to seeing so many tomatoes forming in early July! These may take another month or longer to ripen but they’re off to a great start. Notice the scar in the stem near the bottom-right of the photo. That’s where I removed a sucker from the plant. Also, you can see the string that spirals around the plant’s stem to provide support.
I cram tomato plants into my raised vegetable bed. This year, in a space that is 10 feet by 14 feet, I set 76 tomato plants and wrote about it in June in a post titled Tomato Spacing in My Small Kitchen Garden.
To manage so many plants in such a small space, I borrow methods from blogs (sadly, things I read before it occurred to me to keep track of the sources), Cooperative Extension documents, and Dad.
Hanging String Tomato Trellis
From a blog, I learned the hanging string trellis method—something I’d seen years before in a book about growing vegetables vertically. My trellis resembles the one I saw in a blog only in that strings hang down to support the tomato plants; the structure supporting the strings is my own concoction. I described the trellises in a post titled Tomato Supports in Your Small Kitchen Garden.
By late June I’d built the trellises for my tomatoes and hung strings for most of the plants. The video embedded in this blog post shows how to start a tomato plant on a hanging string trellis and how to pluck suckers to keep the plants growing up instead of out.
Early Blight and Late Blight
From Cooperative Extension I learned more about blight than could possibly be useful to me. The most influential tidbit is that in a test plot using half a dozen organic blight preventatives, only copper-based chemical applications (considered organic) prevented blight on tomato plants. ALL other organic methods of control failed.
Early blight apparently isn’t as nasty as late blight, but the best treatment for both blights is to use preventive measures. In other words, do what you can to prevent your plants from getting sick.
With my plants so crowded, blight is a great concern: If even one plant develops blight, the others are likely to do the same. So, I’m treating my plants with a copper-based fungicide. If it rains, I treat the plants once they’re dry. Without rain, I treat them every two weeks.
Yes, copper can build up in the soil, and that’s a bad thing. So, I use the lowest recommended concentration of fungicide and I expect not to reuse this particular garden space for tomatoes for at least two growing seasons. If my prophylactic blight treatments fail, you’ll be able to hear me crying about it in my blog later this year.
From Dad I learned to pluck suckers. Plucking suckers isn’t necessary to maintain healthy tomato plants. However, if you want to fit a lot of plants into a little space, plucking suckers helps. Training tomato vines up a string (or a stake) is quite easy when there is a single main stem. I wrote about plucking suckers in a post titled Tomatoes: Are You a Sucker Plucker?
Video Demonstration of Tomato Plant Management
I recently captured a video of myself plucking suckers from a tomato plant and then stringing up the plant on a hanging string trellis. This shows how I get a plant started on the trellis once the plant is about 18 inches tall. I’ll create another video in a week or so to demonstrate how I manage a plant when it grows beyond the highest loop of string around its stem. The video is three minutes long: