Sometime around1980, my late father gave me a book called Terrific Tomatoes, written by the editors of an organization called Organic Gardening and Farming.  It has been on a shelf in my home office for roughly thirty years, and although I glanced through it initially, I have to admit that for my past three decades of growing tomatoes, that is where is has remained, unread. It’s not that I had anything close to a lofty attitude about my own knowledge of tomatoes, just more a case of habit.  I just never took the time to do things any differently than I had done in previous years. 

Although I have been gardening for a good while longer than I’ve had that little book, this year I decided I would do things differently, shake things up a bit to see if I could produce a larger harvest by pruning the tomatoes, then staking them to a single post as opposed to my usual operation of letting them grow in the standard cage support.  I got this idea from watching the movie, Driving Miss Daisy some years ago, from the scene where she and Morgan Freeman are tending to some tomato plants behind her house.  It just all seemed so tidy, and that appealed to my sense of order. So I suppose one might say this has been on my garden back burner for a while now.  Additionally, with a limited area of full sun in my yard, I thought this might give me room for an additional plant or two, while still allowing for essential air circulation.  

I realized I needed a little information on how to prune tomatoes, and remembered that book.  So I got it out and perused the table of contents to see if I could find something to address my current need.  Sure enough, there it was, exactly what I was looking for.  Chapter Five, Staking and Pruning, page 73, and a sub-heading that read: determinate and indeterminate varieties-staking vs. not staking-pruning-planting; suckers-tying up plants-stakes-variations of the stake.   Clearly, I still had a thing or two learn about growing tomatoes in this way. 

I learned that the variety, either determinate or indeterminate, refers to the growth habit of the plants.  Determinate varieties are often the early fruiting selections, like Early Girl, and have shorter stems that end in flower clusters.  This growth habit tends to produce bushier plants, and the plant concentrates its energy into the fruit once it is set until it ripens, rather than continuing to grow branches.  Also, the tomatoes are often found lower on the plant, and these don’t always require staking.  The book states that because of this growth pattern, these plants do not respond well to pruning and that it can substantially reduce their yield.

 Indeterminate tomatoes tend to be the later varieties, and will keep growing in all directions, with clusters of fruit continuing on the vine.  These types respond well to both pruning and staking.  These are the monsters that in the past have tended to grow through the chain link fencing and into my neighbor’s yard. 

As to the pruning, there appears to be three approaches to these indeterminate varieties of tomato; one can prune them to a single stem, a double stem, or multiple stems, staking them as they grow.  The book recommends using a kind of figure-eight tie with a soft cloth or similarly gentle material to form a strong support that does not injure the plant.  The pruning method is to pinch off the suckers (or new branch growth) that form in the elbow of the main stems so the plant can put its energy into the forming fruit and less into growing more branches. This will take more work of course, but that’s all part of the experiment.  

This new knowledge makes me glad that I have always purchased a variety of both early and late tomatoes.  I have done this in the past only so that I can keep up with the canning.  This year, I have a good second reason for that practice. 

For anyone who may be interested in the outcome of this experiment, I’ll try to post a few photos of the results as the season progresses. ~Georgia Totten, Sioux Falls

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