The Gordon Gnohm

Play along at home, read Future Farmer in The Braidwood Bugle every Wednesday. 

Tomato Staking & Pruning

Its finally Summer, so how do your tomatoes grow?

If you’ve been playing along at home, you’ve got a substantial tomato plant or plants in your garden. Its not just me, this has become a collective experience. The data suggests if your soil temp guides you, its best to get your tomatoes in the ground before Tomato Cup Day. 

There is fruit on the bush, its over 30cm tall and its starting to sprawl. Now is the time to stake. It’s a bit late to stake mine, but a little bit late is on time by my watch.

Thanks to everyone playing along at home, and for popping into the Braidwood Markets to swap a yarn. I love the reports of success as much as I like to hear about failures. Possums and mice eating the ripening fruit (or the whole plant) being the biggest issue. Good growth and fruit on the plant before Tomato Cup Day, makes for exciting sharing. The frost, hail, snow and black frost however, didnt get a mention. Bombay Seed Traders Wildgrown Seedlings for the win.

The reason I like to get my tomatoes in early is because the preferred air temp for setting flowers and fruit is 15C -25C, typical spring weather. Summer is here and there are tomatoes ready to ripen when air temps reach around 30C+. This peak will see a decline in flowers and fruit. Each variety has its own preferences and acclimatising your own seed is best. Early planting is a risk that generally pays off, so I get braver every season.

If you’ve had a crack but not had a lot of growth, maybe your microclimate is not receiving early spring as suggested in edition #170 . Let your soil temp be your guide. Mine slowed during October as the soil temp dropped, but they got staunch and now they grow like crazy.

Staking

A single wooden tomato stake has never brought me any success. I have seen it work well for folks who heavily prune their plants to a single vertical stem, tying it as it grows and nipping outside growth. Its not how I like to do it, it’s the realm of tomato aficionados who treat their tomatoes like royalty and tend them daily. Im less focussed on mine until they have tomatoes on them to eat. 

If you are going to single stake, you want to get it in early. Tomatoes have a delicate fibrous root system and dislike being disrupted. Staking outside the rootzone is the key and bang it in deep. 

My preferred method to hold up a tomato plant is a cylinder approx 400mm diameter made from 1800mm tall dog mesh. One tomato stake on the windward side, to hold it upright. The tomato will grow up and out the squares supporting itself without tying. 

Unfortunately, dog mesh has changed in structure over the years requiring more support. I started using 2 stakes to hold the cylinders up over the plants because the wire collapses under the weight of a mature plant and topples over in the wind. The winds in our garden eventually topple over, or snap, upright stakes under the weight of the tomatoes and wind, so a 3rd stake has been required. 

This season I am using 3 or 4 stakes to create a tepee. Each stake is angled into the earth outside the rootzone. I use baling wire to tie the top. This wire is easily wrapped around the tepee to create shelves for the tomato to hang on and grow up. Similar to the dog mesh but less wire. Occasional training of low tendrils inside the tepee will result in more upright growth before cascading over at the top.

Pruning

Im pretty hands off when it comes to tending my tomatoes, I keep pruning to a minimum. Every time a plant gets pruned, it loses 3-5 days to slowdown, redirect energy to healing the wound and then setting up ready to grow again. 

The same happens when you transplant and disturb the roots, it slows down and goes through a different process before growing again. Same goes for hardening off from a greenhouse. The high to low humidity & temp, is quite a shock for baby plants, so they slow down to adjust to the dramatic change, before growing again.

In our very short growing season, I don’t want to do anything to stunt the growth and fruiting of my yummy tomatoes.

At this point, I do prune off lower leaves and tendrils touching the ground to reduce fungal issues at the base of the plant. I was just intime for torrential rain flooding the garden for a change. Lower pruning also reduces protection for mice who have been nibbling my first San Marzanos in safety. Pruning the base creates a great place to under plant basil for excellent oil transfers, making for amazing tasting tomatoes.

This week

Root veggies were transplanted into spent, 2yo beds, one metre squares along the length of the bed. The alternating colours are stunning. More corn planted in a 2m square, staking tomatoes and processing seed, and Ive started competing with the currawongs for berries. Rosellas have been planted in the berry hut to ensure maximum harvest for jam making.

The torrential downpour last night was intense, more than 100mm smashed down on our place before bedtime, and our roof delivered a few new midnight leaks as a result.

Dams are full, tanks are overflowing, and our earth has had a good drenching. There are 3 new tanks waiting to be installed that didn’t catch a drop. Murphy riding shotgun again. 

The best news is our Swale System is full again, catching running water and storing it across the homestead. This stored Skywater will hydrate the earth downhill over the next week, or two, as it slowly soaks into the water table. 

The driveway is the place that really suffered. There has been so much wind since the last decent rain that all the drains filled with fallen debris. This fallen debris created mini beaver dams everywhere! So I’ll be on the excavator for the next few days sorting it out.

The endemic trees on the property have really needed rain, the thinning canopies being their stress tell. Ive been hearing reports all over the region of 40-50mm events, when we were getting 1-2mm. Mt Palerang has parted most rain around us in recent months, so its great to hear the property sing again.

There is always something to do on the homestead that wasn’t part of todays plan, so off in this distraction I will go. Until next week

Remember, every day is a school day.

Stay awesome,

The Gordon Gnohm

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