BUILD YOUR OWN DAMN TOMATO TRELLIS

Our preferred  method of keeping tomatoes off the ground is string trellising. This is a great method for those that want to have multiple different varieties but have limited space availability. It requires a bit of maintenance but it does make for a well organized plant that is easy to work with.

The process involves training the tomato plants to a designated number of “leaders” - usually one to four. For the home garden, four would work quite well. “Leaders” are the main shoot of the plant (leader # 1) and then additional leaders are suckers. 

Tip - wait until a sucker presents that is close in size to the main leader.  In red, is the original leader and then, in the crotch of a leaf branch, a sucker grew and became the second leader. In this case, all other leaders will be removed. 

Tip - wait until a sucker presents that is close in size to the main leader.  In red, is the original leader and then, in the crotch of a leaf branch, a sucker grew and became the second leader. In this case, all other leaders will be removed. 

To tie them up, regular twine works great and can be bought at any garden center or hardware store. The knot used at the bottom is a bowline know. It forms a loop that won’t tighten even when pulled. Consult the internet to learn about a bowline. Other knots would certainly work too as long as they allow the stem to grow. The twine is then tied to something on the top such as a tall post, or a DIY structure of your choice. 

BAMBOO TRELLIS INSTRUCTIONS

1. Bring home at least a dozen bamboo poles 6-7 foot lengths. (depending on how many plants you have)
2. Using a trowel, dig a hole. Drive the bamboo stake into the hole. Make another hole opposite the first, about 4-5 feet away, and drive a stake into it. 
3. The bamboo poles should come together like a teepee. Wrap twine around the two poles where they meet at the top. Repeat this process to create 2 more teepees. Leave about 4 feet between each teepee.
4. Then place the last bamboo pole across the top of the structure in the “V” created where the poles meet, connecting all the teepees together.
5. Tie twine from one pole to the next along each side. Leaving about 12 inches between each line, continue up the teepee structure. You should have about 3 or 4 lines strung up by the end. This reinforces the structure and adds support for the tomato plants as they grow and climb.

* Instructions adapted from the following article.
Many thanks to French Lake Farmer for their growing expertise and help with this post!

How NOT to Kill Your Tomato Plants

Photography by  Sean O'brien

Photography by Sean O'brien

First off, shout out to the experts on tomato growing French Lake Farmer. These guys were just recently certified organic and are dedicated to growing the most beautiful, best tasting tomatoes in the Midwest. Just ask Cooks of Crocus hill who routinely feature their tomatoes in their seasonal crop shares. If you don't have the growing space to produce the ton of tomatoes you need for canning (seriously it's like 10 lb.), consider picking up a canners bulk case worth of Romas from these guys. Contact them directly over on www.frenchlakefarmer.com.
 

FIVE WAYS NOT TO KILL YOUR TOMATO PLANTS 

1. When the plant is about two feet tall, cut (or snap off) all the leaves below the lowest flowers.
2. Keep a consistent moisture level. Mulching with grass clippings or last years leaves (if you saved them) is a good way to keep even moisture levels in the soil. This will help prevent blossom end rot, one of the most common causes of tomato plant loss.
3. Avoid overwatering and don’t use grass clippings if you’ve sprayed your lawn with a dandelion killer.
4. Keep the leaves dry! Water tomato plants around the stem and again avoid overhead watering.
Most tomato problems in MN have to do with moisture and Tomato Blight loves moisture. 
5. Keep the tomatoes off of the ground! These plants benefit in a number of ways from support, staking, trellising etc.

For more information on detecting and troubleshooting your Tomato growing problems check out post, Speaking Tomato: What is Your Plant Trying to Tell you.

Speaking Tomato: What Your Plant is Trying to Tell You

It's around August each year that our tomato plants start developing all kinds of interesting looking spots and defects. 

Use our diagram to identify what your plant is trying to tell you about its current state. We explain solutions and tips to solve these common Tomato Plant problems.

In many instances, if your plant is to far gone pull the plant but DO NOT compost, you could be spreading the disease to your compost bin, no bueno. With that said, many of these issues can be avoided next year by rotating your plants locations, mulching thoroughly and avoiding overhead water (keep those leafs dry!). 

Illustration by  Ashley Barlow Art.

Illustration by Ashley Barlow Art.

VIRUSES
Do you have a sad tiny plant that isn't producing much fruit and has misshapen odd leafs unlike any of your other tomato plants? There are more than 20 common viruses that can impact your plants health and harvest. The sad fact is you should really pull and destroy these plants immediately to prevent the virus from spreading. Chin up, there's always next year!
 

LEAF WILT
Avoid over-watering tomato plants; just because a plant is wilted doesn't mean it needs more water. Check the soil; if the soil is dry (does not stick to your finger) then water your plant concentrating the water at the base of the plant, not overhead. 

 

PESTS (Caterpillars + Whitefly + Greenflly + Blackflly + Slugs)
Inspect your plant's leafs every few days for holes, bumps or bugs. Plant spearmint (in pots to prevent spreading), clover or daisies in proximity to your tomato plants to attract paper wasps, a natural predator of the horned caterpillar that rarely have stingers (next year to do list, check!). Feel free to manually remove pests at the end of a rough day with a big squish between your fingers (hey it's also organic). If you think you have slugs apply a thin layer of Diatomaceos Earth dust around the base of each tomato plant. An insecticidal soap picked up at your neighborhood garden center (we like Eggplant Urban Farm Supply) will also help fend off pests. 

 

RED SPIDER MITES
Look for thin spiderwebs all over the plant or for the spider and eggs themselves on the underside of the leafs. Spray plants with a fine mist of water, twice daily, as the spider mite can only thrive in hot dry conditions. An insecticidal soap picked up at your neighborhood garden center (we like Eggplant Urban Farm Supply) will also help but should be sprayed every week.


GREENBACK
You may start spotting the green unripened areas around the stem of the plant. Because this problem is caused by high heat and too much sun you really can only prevent this from happening by providing some shade for the plant (eg. a trellis, other taller plants or trees, we like giant sun flowers). Tomatoes with greenback are still edible, just cut the green sections off or allow them to ripen more in doors in a brown paper bag for a day or two.

 

SUN SCORCH
This will first begin to appear as a white or yellow spotted area on the upper side of tomato that faces the sun. It's not really dangerous to the plant but long bouts of high heat can cause the fruit to blister then you might get fungal problems. Cages can help and a little extra nitrogen in the soil but rethink next year's planting spot. Give the plants a little shade provided by a fence or taller plants. If you know your growing space is susceptible to Sun Scorch plant tomato varieties that naturally have larger heavier foliage


TOMATO BLIGHT
Early tomato blight forms spots on the leaves, which then turn yellow and die. The spots may start out small and shrunken and as they get bigger they get longer. Spots which are on the stem near the ground can cause the stem to shrink.
Avoid overhead watering (do we sound like a broken record yet?) by watering at the base of the plant. Water your plants only in the mornings to give the leafs time to dry out. If you see anything that even remotely looks like blight, begin a spraying program of alternating organic copper spray, and Serenade biological fungicide, both of which are safe to use on edibles. If you have Late Blight (blue gray spots on the leafs and fruit that are turning brown) pull the effected plant immediately.
Real talk, I plant a few extra plants (spaced far apart to prevent overcrowding but also to prevent problems from spreading)  and if any of my plants show any sign of blight I pull the plant. The earlier the better to prevent it from spreading to other healthier plants. 


BLOSSEM END ROT
If you've spotted a dark, rotting spot on the bottom of your tomatoes the soil pH should be 6.5 to 6.8 to free more calcium in the soil chemistry. Test results will indicate the amount of lime to add. Even better, lime also contains calcium. Work the lime into the top 12 inches of soil. Use a lime labeled “fast-acting,” which is better than ground limestone unless you have weeks to wait for the lime to react in the soil. If the pH is already correct, the soil test will recommend a different calcium source, such as gypsum.  Also, add crumbled egg shells to your compost or bury them in your garden over time to help maintain the calcium levels. 


FRUIT SPLITTING
This is almost unavoidable during the end of a growing season, unless you are in a green house. Water regularly and fertilize the soil often to keep the plant happy and the soil around it healthy. We like Dr.Earth on our tomatoes.