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Monday, August 17, 2009

30 Tomato Plants ~ Oh My!

Last year, we grew our tomatoes in traditional tomato cages. They did well, but not as well as the ones at our CSA farm did! When we toured Harmony Valley Farm last year, Andy took note of how our farmer, Richard, strung up his tomatoes with twine. Three or four tomato plants were between two large metal posts. Tomatoes were supported by several layers of twine tied to each post. The tomatoes looked easier to pick, and it was clear that less space per tomato plant was needed using this method. What we saw is known to vegetable farmers as the basket weaving method. We decided to give it a try this year!

Another new adventure we tried this year was starting our plants from seed. We purchased a series of grow lights and equipment to construct our makeshift indoor green house. Of course, we had no room other than in our bedroom! So, for quite some time, we went to bed with two cats, thirty tomato plants, and a large spread of other plants. How romantic!

We hadn't intended for there to be so many plants, but watching a plant sprout from a seed and then try to thrive, I sort of developed what I've come to call plant empathy. I couldn't bear to dispose of any of the plants nor could I find anyone to take them off of our hands, so we ended up planting them all, much to Andy's distress. When it came time to transplant them all, we actually had to till two small patches of land to accommodate all the extra foliage. Effectively, we now have three gardens!

Throughout the summer, much maintenance was needed to properly keep up with our new method of tomato planting. To begin basket weaving, put stakes 4 to 6 feet apart. Then, plant 3 to 4 plants between them, 12-15 inches apart. As the plants grow, weave twine between them, tying the twine to each post. This method offers support to the plants as they grow and helps to keep tomatoes off of the ground. The trick is to do it frequently, otherwise one might end up in his/her garden for hours and hours, lost in a chaos of leaves, trying to determine which plant is which as over time they'll grow together if not properly maintained. We ended up needing to weave twine at least once a week during the middle of the season. Now, as the tomatoes have reached their peak, it's all about picking and finding a way to preserve and use all of those tomatoes!

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