Are you a staker or a cager?
I’m a staker because my Dad was a staker, so I assume his brothers and sister are stakers, too, and that perhaps my grandparents were stakers, but I don’t know for sure.
We had a neighbor who was a cager, but otherwise seemed to have a pretty good garden.
I’m of course referring to the two methods of growing tomatoes. Some of us do it properly by staking the tomato plants; others just throw some kind of cage around the plant and hope for the best I suppose. Not that there is anything really wrong with caging your tomato plants, but…
I was just raised to stake tomato plants.
Some of the other lessons my Dad taught me about tomatoes:
- Plant them deep in the spring. You should remove all but the top two or three sets of leaves and bury your tomato plant nice and deep. Roots will grow along the buried stem, giving you a sturdier plant in the long run.
- Enrich the soil around them with your best compost. The tomato is the king of the garden and deserves the best soil in the garden and the best spot in the garden. The tomatoes will be the biggest plants, so plant the rest of the garden around them. When I plan out my own vegetable garden, I figure out where to plant the tomatoes first and then everything else sort of falls into place.
- Start early if you want to harvest tomatoes earlier than anyone else. You have to start your seedlings early, pot them up a few times in progressively bigger pots, and then be willing to take the tomato plants out on warm days and back in on cool days and cold nights until it is finally time to plant them out in the garden. My Dad always did this which is why I think he always seemed to harvest his first tomato in June, and I don’t harvest a tomato until mid to late July. At least I know WHAT to do to get an earlier tomato, even if I don’t do it.
- Provide really sturdy stakes for support, expecting the tomato plants to get really big. My Dad used metal fence posts, sunk nearly two feet down into the ground with cross bars between them, to support his tomato plants, and believe me, his tomatoes needed that strong of a structure. His tomato plants, in my mind, grew nearly eight feet tall. In the picture above, they are at least six feet tall.
- Remove the suckers from the tomato plants. This keeps them from getting all bushy and expending energy on side shoots instead of blooms. Suckering is simply the removal of the side shoots as they form in the axils between the leaves and the main stem. It’s fairly easy to do, and if you keep up with it, you’ll have nice tall tomato plants with lots of good tomatoes and a green thumb and finger. If you don’t keep up with it, well, you might as well have just caged them.
And there you have it, five tomato growing lessons from my Dad who, if he were still alive, would have turned 80 years old today.
Now, in honor of my Dad, please grow your tomatoes properly, by staking them.