Monday, June 4, 2012

Harvest Monday and Tomato Strategies

See for what comes out of people’s gardens all over the world.  The harvest this week is sugar snap peas, 22 oz, and a nice head of Pakman broccoli, 13 oz.  It's a good year for sugar snap peas.  I probably ate a few more ounces while picking them, it's hard to stop.  The weather this week is cooler than normal, so it looks like the peas and lettuce will continue to produce.  The broccoli plant came out as soon as the head was picked to make space for the Picolino cucumber next to it. 

The hot weather plants, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and squash are all growing vigourously too.  Only the okra, a new variety for me called Red Burgundy, is growing slowly.  The first summer squash – cocozelle – is just about ready, the earliest ever.

Everybody has their own methods for growing tomatoes.  Since I make room for only two plants I try to maximize yields with vertical support.  The cages of concrete remesh are two feet in diameter and four feet tall.   They are hung on seven foot metal fenceposts so the cage bottom is two feet above the soil, making a six foot tall cage.  The hooks on the stamped metal fenceposts are six inches apart, same as the mesh spacing, so the cages can be attached very securely to the posts by fitting each cage wire into a hook and closing it a little with pliers.  It would take quite a storm to blow over this setup.  The tomato plants are now about a foot into the cages, and I’ve put some bamboo crossmembers through the cages for more support. 

It takes a little time to get the posts set up with the right spacing and the cages aligned and set into the post hooks but once in place they are good for the season.  The posts can be hard to pull out in the fall.  If they don’t come out I add some water at the base and wait a few hours.
In addition to building support for indeterminate tomatoes I always sucker them as we say in the midwest (other people may prune them).  Some growers remove all suckers and train to the central leader.  In my view that’s fine if you’ve got a cage about sixteen feet high.  Some growers don’t remove any suckers.  I’ve found that can leave too much foliage which can lower yields and promote diseases due to poor air circulation.  Kitsap has a good discussion of suckering tomatoes here if you want additional info:

I try to leave three or four suckers to start with.  Once the plants are about four to five feet high they are usually growing so vigourously that it’s hard to keep up with the suckers and I don’t try.  The early suckers are like the major branches of a large tree, the later suckers are like small branches.  Here’s the Supersonic plant right after it was suckered: 

This plant early in its life put a lot of energy into one sucker, so that the sucker is the equal of the main stem.  The sucker goes to the left and the main stem goes to the right.  I decided to just go with that, like a tree that has two equal forks, and remove all the suckers below the fork.  You can see in the picture that the lower suckers have been cut off.  The lower leaves will eventually die off and leave the lower parts well ventilated.
The Black Krim plant is growing exactly the same way, with most of it’s energy going into one sucker (on the left) and the main stem.  I used the same approach on this plant too.  A bifurcated plant should fill out the cage nicely.  The Black Krim has already set some nice tomatoes.  It was recommended to me by a vendor at the Bloomington farmers market.

Both tomato plants were transplanted into the beds on May 1, which is very early for this area.  My strategy is to get them out as soon as it looks like the weather will allow.  This spring was the warmest on record and the soil had already warmed above 60 degrees.  The last days of April had some frosts so I held off until the ten day forecast (I like Intellicast) on May 1 showed no lows below 40 degrees.  A low in the upper 30’s won’t kill a tomato plant but it may stunt it.  Eggplants especially do not like that kind of weather, they will stop growing and never resume growth (in my experience anyway).  Getting the tomatoes in the beds ASAP means that I’ve got some tomatoes on the vine that are progressing well in early June.

I tried a different strategy with squash this year.  I seeded the squash April 17 in five inch plastic drinking cups with holes punched in the bottom.  Squash have large seeds that can send roots down very fast and they cannnot be kept in a container very long.  By May 1 it was past time to get them in the beds.  When I set the squash seedlings into the beds I planted some seeds of the same variety around each seedling, as a backup.
It turns out that the butternut did not tolerate a few nights in the low 40’s, while the squash that was direct seeded did fine.  After a few weeks a butternut that was direct seeded was looking better than the transplant, which had small leaves, short stems, little growth - stunted.  So I pulled up the original transplant and gave the space to the younger butternut.  Having some insurance pays off.


Lynda said...

Your tomatoes are going to be awesome!!! I can't wait to see them in the coming Harvest Mondays!

Sustainably Modern said...

Great info. Thanks! That is a great looking squash AND squash blossom..yummy.

kitsapFG said...

I really like your caging system. It looks very sturdy and workmanlike. I think you and I actually end up with much the same result on pruning (suckering) as our methods are not too much different really.

Your tomato plants have really good sturdy central stems and those fruiting plants bear evidence to your good care and choices in timing the plantings.

Mary Hysong said...

wow your green tomatoes look huge. My Italian Heirloom and Amish Paste are just beginning to set, but I wasn't able to start them until March 1; usually I start all the tomatoes and peppers in Jan & Feb. Your squash and broccoli are lovely; I think most of us had a very early spring this year!

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