Tomato Trellises (cont)
By: National Gardening Association Editors
Wire Tunnels (or Quonsets)
If you've been using tomato cages, try using the same material a different way. Cages are one of the simplest and most popular training systems, but they become top-heavy as the plants mature and must be fastened to stakes to keep them from falling over in wind. Undo the cages and set them on the ground as quonsets, and the system becomes very stable. Moreover, you can let the plants sprawl with no need to tie up or clip errant side shoots. This is how some commercial tomato growers in Spain grow their plants.
Use six-inch-mesh concrete-reinforcing wire, which comes in rolls six feet wide. Cut off six-foot sections to make squares six feet on a side. This will make an arch about 18 inches tall across a 30-inch-wide bed. (To span a wider bed, the wire may need support in the center to carry the weight of a crop of tomatoes.) If you cut out the horizontal pieces along the bottom edge, you create three-inch-long pins to push into the soil. In sandy soils, you may want six-inch pins. On wooden raised beds, you may not need pins at all. Space tomatoes 18 inches apart down the center of the bed.
These tunnels (and wire cages) are excellent systems for determinate varieties. With indeterminate varieties, just drape any branches that creep into the row back over the top. The six-inch mesh is big enough to make picking simple. And the material is versatile. You can use these quonsets for cucumbers, squash and melons, as well as peppers, rangy varieties of bush beans and cut flowers. You can easily convert the wire into cages, and it can be straightened partially to stack in storage.
Stake and Weave
American tomato farmers developed this system, which is sometimes called the Florida Weave or San Diego Weave method. It uses inexpensive materials and is extremely fast to build and easy to maintain. The final effect is a dense hedge of tomato foliage. Even with indeterminate varieties, pruning can be minimal.
Set sturdy one- to two-inch stakes three or four feet apart down the center of a row or bed and at both ends. The stakes are set between plants, not beside them. If you space tomatoes 18 or 24 inches apart, you have two plants between each stake. If you like three feet between plants, put a stake between each plant. Determinate varieties will need at least three-foot-tall stakes; indeterminates require six-foot stakes.
When the plants get about a foot tall and are in danger of toppling in a wind, make the first tier of baling twine. Tie the twine to an end post and string the twine down the row alongside the tomato plants, wrapping it once around each post. Here is where the weaving comes in: A run of string between posts should alternate from one side of the tomato row to the other as you go. When you reach the end, begin working the twine back in the opposite direction, stringing it on the side opposite the path you took on your first pass. A week to 10 days later, when the vines have grown up enough to be in danger of toppling, weave another course about eight inches higher up the stake.