The Trellis Experiment
I know it’s the middle of January but I also know that plant and seed catalogs start pouring in. Many of us comb through them and get that gardening itch. Like it or not, winter is a time to think about the next planting season, at least for me anyway. Looking back to see what worked well and what was a failure. Looking forward to see what new experiment might fruitfully improve the garden and what new plants to grow.
We love tomatoes and have been growing a variety of both large and small sizes. The challenge of growing tomatoes for me is keeping them straight up. I bought a variety of tomato cages early on but they never worked well for me. Most of the time they’re too short. My tomato plants grow over six feet tall and some years I have to get on a ladder to tie them in place. So I have been experimenting with ways to keep them from flopping over in the least amount of time. Tying tomato plants is a time consuming process.
When the tomato cages failed, I used long poles to tie the main stalks up, then used some shorter and smaller ones vertically in between for the branches. This method worked well but risked damaging the roots when I pushed a new pole into the ground to support a branch. The tomatoes also flopped over when I failed to have enough time to keep tying them regularly as they grew. I also used a lot of smaller poles, too many of them, in fact. I had been using this method until last season.
I experimented on a new method last season. I still use the longest and largest pole, 8 foot long, to tie the main stem to. But this time I also put these long poles on either side of the plant, making a railroad track with plants in the middle. Each tomato has 1 foot by 16 inches in space. Then I tie smaller poles, horizontally, connecting each long pole together. I keep a foot of space between each horizontal bar. Once the tomatoes grow and branch out, I just tie their stems to these bars. Restricted to gardening on the weekend some weeks, the branches still rested on the bars, without flopping down.
One mistake I made was to use thinner sticks for some of the bars. I ran out of the the sturdier ones so I used the ones made for hoops in their place. They bent way too easily under the weight of large tomatoes.
At the end of the season, once I cut all tomato plants down, I untie the poles and put them back in the toolshed. That saves a lot of space. I can always shrink or expand the trellis according to how many tomatoes I grow.