A healthy garden needs an organic start...

Tomato Pruning

A guide for organic gardeners and farmers.

 

1.Variety--Don’t expect to have success with the the seeds Uncle Marv sent you from New Jersey.  Unlike some parts of the country, we need to choose our varieties pretty carefully in order to make sure the harvest rolls in before the late blight does.  While all the varieties we sell as plants are growable here, we always recommend the non-heirlooms for the main crop and/or for less experienced growers, and the heirloom varieties for a yummy, but supplemental addition.

2.Timing and Protection--We generally don’t encourage planting before May 1st unless you’re offering some kind of nigh time protection or a greenhouse.  Depending on the year and the microclimate of the garden, tomatoes may even want protection on some nights throughout May. June, July, and August are generally very safe months for unprotected tomato plants, but by September, they will likely benefit from being kept relatively dry.  The late blight strikes wet leaves, so keeping the leaves dry in the late summer and fall is a big benefit.

Sunseed Farm tomatoes before arriving at the market…

Sunseed Farm tomatoes before arriving at the market…

3.Pruning--Without a doubt, the most overlooked, and underestimated aspect of tomato growing.  There is no one “right way” to prune, but we’ll provide some basic ideas, and the example of how we do our own.  The first big question is, determinate or indeterminate.  Take another look at the list of varieties above to see what you’ve got.  We’ll start with determinate, because they’re easy:  leave them alone--no pruning necessary.  For this reason we often recommend the determinates to busy or first time gardeners.  Indeterminates on the other hand do need pruning to realize their harvest potential in this climate. It is important to get acquainted with the basic growth habit of the plant: central stem (or leader), leaves and fruit trusses coming off the stem, and axil shoots or “suckers” emerging from each leaf axil.  The basic idea is to remove many of these suckers from the main stem--leaving perhaps 1-4 of them to grow out into additional vines.  We leave just one sucker to grow in addition to the central leader.  We use thick twine suspended from above and wound around the stem to support the plants, rather than stakes.  Stakes work fine too, but this system is great for us.

4.Know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em--The end of summer can come sneaking right up some years.  An important way to increase your yield is anticipating the change.  Invariably, there are lots of green fruit on the vines as fall nears that won’t ripen up in time.  Some of these can be harvested  to ripen later or used green, but we find the most benefit to come from thinning the fruit load when the nights start to cool.  Every year and neighborhood is different, but a good place to start might be the end of August, and then see what you learn.  By clipping off all the blossoms and little fruit, and snipping the growing tips off of the vines, you can divert that energy where it matters more--fruit that actually have a chance of getting red.