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For more topics in
the series, click on Market Farming Basics in the left
column.Taking care of tomatoes
If you’re like most growers,
tomatoes are one of your most important crops, either because you make
the most money from them or because your customers demand them. Such an
essential crop deserves special treatment to enhance flavor, appearance,
and yield. The best way to improve your tomatoes is to prune and train
them. Here’s why.Pruning tomatoes
please note that this information applies only to indeterminate tomato
varieties. Determinates should NOT be pruned because pruning will reduce
Indeterminates, however, will grow until killed by frost,
always dividing their energy between vegetative growth and fruit
production. Appropriate pruning reduces vegetative growth to the minimum
required for plant health, thereby increasing the energy available for
flowering and fruiting. Pruned tomatoes produce larger fruits that ripen
earlier, sometimes by as much as two weeks. Pruning also helps prevent
foliar diseases because it reduces crowding and touching of leaves. Too
much pruning, however, can result in fruits with sunburn, catfacing, and
blossom end rot.
Indeterminate tomatoes are vining plants with
many branches. Pruning reduces the number of branches to one, two, or
several main branches or “leaders” which will ideally be about the same
size. This is accomplished by removing side shoots or “suckers” that
grow in the leaf axils between leaves and the stem. Here’s how it’s
If you want just one leader, remove all the leaves and side
shoots below the first flower cluster. As the plant grows, continue to
remove all suckers from the leaf axils.
If you want two leaders,
which is often recommended in case the main stem is damaged, leave one
sucker directly below the first flower cluster. Prune all other suckers
that grow on both stems.
For plants with three or four leaders, leave
the first sucker or first two suckers above the first flower cluster.
After that, prune off all new suckers.
The suckers should be
removed when they are 2-3” long. In most cases, they will snap off when
bent, although if the plant is wilted they may need to be pruned off
with pruners or a razor blade. Pruning should be done about every week
to 10 days to stay ahead of sucker development. If this task gets away
from you and suckers get too long, you should pinch or cut off the
growing tip of the sucker, leaving a few leaves behind, rather than
trying to remove the entire shoot, which would create a wound close to
the main stem and make it more vulnerable to disease.
For more information, see Johnny’s video “How to Prune Tomatoes.” http://www.growingwisdom.com/index.aspx?pid=9&sid=1&cid=341
Opinions vary about the best way to prune and train indeterminate
tomatoes, with four primary strategies used by commercial growers:
or ground culture involves neither pruning nor staking. Plants are left
growing on the ground or on plastic mulch.
Cage systems involve
pruning the plants to three or four leaders and confining them inside a
Stake and Weave or basket weave requires plants to be
pruned to one or two vines, and supported by twine strung between stakes
beside every other tomato plant.
Trellis systems require plants
to be pruned to two leaders that are tied to twine hanging from a wire
Each system has advantages and disadvantages.
State researchers compared the four systems
and found that trellis
culture, with the plants pruned to two leaders, resulted in the earliest
and largest tomatoes and the best pest control. However, fruit cracking
and sunburn were problems. Cage production resulted in the largest
marketable yield, but ranked lower in earliness, fruit size, fruit
cracking and rotting, and pest control. Ground culture was the worst in
almost all measures. The system that seemed the best balance between
yield and quality was Stake and Weave.
For more information, see "Training Systems and
Pruning in Organic Tomato Production"
by Oregon Tilth.
article on training hoophouse tomatoes
in the Catalog Extras
section of JohnnySeeds.com
Better Tasting Tomatoes
For a long
time, growers have assumed that tomato flavor depended on the variety,
with some influence from the weather that year. But recent research
shows that flavor may be enhanced by growing practices and soil
amendments. Growing for Market recently reported on three strategies
reputed to improve the flavor of tomatoes. So far, there's no conclusive
research about these practices, just interesting ideas that might be
worth trying yourself on a few plants. You can read the
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from JSS Advantage June 2010