By: National Gardening Association Editors
Tomato vines that ramble over the ground are much more likely to suffer damage from slugs, and the fruits are prone to rot wherever they touch the ground. Getting the fruit up in the sun enhances ripening, and is especially important where the season is brief.
Training systems let you fit more plants into your garden. That means higher total yields. The ideal trellis uses inexpensive, durable materials that store easily, and it's simple and quick to put up and take down.
Here are four proven designs. Shepherd Ogden, NG's contributing editor and author of Step by Step Organic Vegetable Gardening, grows several hundred tomato pants each year in Vermont using three of these designs. The stake and weave system is favored by specialty tomato growers in the Southeast and Southwest.
Most people find it easier to erect the trellis framework after the plants are in the ground, so you can see where everything ought to go. You can, however, do the work anytime after the soil is prepared but before the plants get much more than a foot tall. Set up the trellises two to three weeks after panting, right before the mulch goes down.
Training tomato plants to bamboo quadripods is much like training them to single stakes, but the quadripods are very stable and nearly windproof. Bamboo is both very light and very strong. The ends of the canes needn't be pushed very far into the ground, which minimizes decay, and the canes can last for several seasons.
Use seven-foot by 3/4-inch bamboo canes, available at many garden centers. Set the tomato plants about two feet apart down each side of the garden bed. Stick the bamboo canes into the soil at each plant. Then, at about six feet above the ground, lash a pair of canes together with the opposing pair on the other side of the bed to make a series of quadripods down the bed.
Fasten the tomato vines to the canes with eight-inch pieces of twine, tying them at about every flower cluster. Pinch out most side shoots, and tie on any that you want to keep.
For added strength, lay bamboo canes across the top to span the row of quadripods. This greatly increases both the stability of the structure and its versatility. Run twine from the top piece to the ground and the system will work well for cucumbers, melons, pole beans, peas and nearly any other crop you want to trellis.