Tomato Planting Commences

I know, I know–a bunch of you have had your tomatoes out for a week or two (or more?).  But I tend to be a little circumspect about the planting of my (this year) 96 tomato plants unless I’m planning on covering them and shielding them from a late cold snap. May 15th is the day.

All of my tomato plants are indeterminate varieties, and they all get huge, so they all get some kind of support.  Most will be tied up to cattle panels, but some will be allowed to sprawl over shorter triangle or arch-shaped supports.

I’ve got these four white vinyl-covered wire shelving unit-type things that make good supports for shorter varieties (well, H got them from somewhere).  The only problem with using them is that once the tomatoes get big enough that you can’t remove the support, the weeds tend to get a free ride under there.

I’m going to solve that problem this year by cutting a rectangle of landscape fabric to go under each one, then plant in holes in the fabric.  I’ve also got a ton of cages of various types, but in my experience, they are better used for peppers and eggplant–they can’t contain the massive tomato plants that pull them out of the ground and then flop the whole production over on its side.

The varieties I do on the lower-level supports tend to be ones with thicker skins–San Marzanos, Principe Borgheses–as they don’t have as much problem with cracking, rotting, and insect or slug damage from being closer to the ground.

So today is all about digging holes and identifying spots to get them all in the ground by June 1st.  Wish me luck!


2 responses

  1. I truly enjoy reading your blog, especially the detailed descriptions, as we are working through the same issues. My aim is to run an eight acre farm with one (old, bad-kneed) man to provide affordable, healthful food to the local folks. Here are a few things I’ve come up with lately:

    Coolers: We’ve used Igloo and Sunbeam 100 qt.+ coolers and found the need for a great deal of repair to hinges and other parts. On the free area of Craig’s List I found a man giving away thick styrafoam coolers that he gets every month. Nice, large flat ice packs fit in the bottom. Three sizes nest. I’m looking for large bags that fit exactly so I can fill with lettuce and fill bags at the market — the activity seems to draw people to our booth.

    Tomato cages: We have over two hundred five-foot concrete reinforcing wire cages and try to make a few each year. We have permanent beds, four feet by 100 or more and we leave the cages in the bed all winter. We plant toms in the adjacent bed to reduce the effort to move the cages. Our process (2-3) weeks before last possible frost:
    1. Dribble two loader buckets of our most broken-down compost, two buckets of town leaves, and 25 pounds of soybean meal. 2. Till in and water 2a. lay drip line. 3. Cover with light-weight clear plastic to sprout the weeds and warm the soil. 4. Cut a four inch hole and plant the toms, two rows about two feet apart, three feet between plants in the row and offset the plants. 5. Water and cover with plastic Hot Hats (about $1 from Hummert and the last for many seasons unless you leave a stack in the sun and they melt! LOL) 6. When weather warms, scatter a bit of leaves or compost on the plastic and remove hot hats. Yesterday two people planted 72 plants in a prepared bed in about 1.5 hours. and were done. This is a bit of work up front but saves a lot of effort over the season.

    We used the same approach for broccoli in a raised bed (with the addition of a row cover over the top) and should be harvesting big heads next week.

    Thanks for your posts and want to let you know we read them and think about thenew ideas we get.

    Tim Fuller
    Erehwon Farm, 40 mi w. of Chicago

    • Thanks for your detailed response! I do have some concrete reinforcement wire cages, and a small roll to make a few more. However, I found that when I went to buy more to make cages, the price had skyrocketed (my lumber guy told me this was because of all the construction in China, driving materials prices up).

      I do like the cattle panel supports that I’ve been using for some of the taller plants–I can interplant young tomatoes among the peas I grow on them, and I can also interplant pole beans among the tomatoes on the later-erected ones. With wide enough beds running east-west and the trellis centered in them, I can tie up the tomatoes and put basil plants in between them, as well as greens in the shade behind.

      I don’t use drip irrigation though I’ve often thought about doing it–certainly it would reduce the heavy workload of watering. However, our set-up makes that somewhat difficult. I do take some pleasure in the hand-watering, as it allows me to inspect the crops as I move along the rows, but when we hit a drought period, it’s stressful for me as well as the plants!

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