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Tomato Plant Maintenance in My Small Kitchen Garden

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.

Why So Many Tomato Plants?

In a comment on one of my earlier posts about tomato trellises (http://www.smallkitchengarden.net/small-kitchen-garden/tomato-supports-in-your-small-kitchen-garden) a reader asked, “Why so many plants?” Admittedly, 76 does seem like a lot. The first time I set a dozen tomato plants, it was a tad overwhelming. But from a dozen plants I was able to cook down two vats of tomato sauce for canning. That totaled about 18 pints.

Turned out we consume 18 pints of tomato sauce in two or three months—and that’s just sauce. We also consume canned diced tomatoes and canned whole tomatoes. Oh, and it’s nice to have chili sauce made according to Mom’s recipe.

I’ve canned 48 pints of sauce and nearly as many pints of diced tomatoes in a season but have run out of both mid-winter. This means buying commercially-canned tomato products for close to seven months of the year. I hope to can more than 52 pints of sauce and 52 pints of diced tomatoes this year. Probably won’t get me through till next tomato season, but it should come a lot closer than in past years.

Preserve Your Produce

I wrote a book called Yes, You Can! And Freeze and Dry It, Too published by Cool Springs Press. In it, I teach how to preserve produce you harvest from your kitchen garden or buy from a farm stand or supermarket. I included a whole bunch of full-color photos (from my own kitchen) and step-by-step instructions for all kinds of projects including several recipes that use home-preserved produce. Pick up a copy now and put up your own goodies to extend your growing season. (Mom’s chili sauce recipe is in the book.)

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.

Tomato Suckers

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:

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One Response to “Tomato Plant Maintenance in My Small Kitchen Garden”

  • Love the structure. When I had my own garden I tried using one leader on a very tall stake. Success depended on the variety. Your structure you make a cool backdrop to an edible landscaping project. Thanks.

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