I think I write those same words about this time every year, don't I? It feels like we've tried every method, and they all work fine. Mostly. Not perfectly. I still haven't found the perfect system. I'm going to keep trying new things until I find it!
This year, I decided to plant about half the tomatoes I did last year - only 32. One (or two) of each of my favorite varieties, and some new ones to see if I find a new obsession. I'll list the tomatoes we have with links to their descriptions below. (I know some of you are as smitten with tomatoes as I am!) The problem with growing ~70 plants last year is that there wasn't room for anything else. And I missed home-grown corn! winter squash! melons! pole beans! And all those plants require a lot of sun. So all those things are going in the sunniest spaces, along with peppers (both sweet and hot) and cucumbers, which we never go without. Plus I have a whole bed of basil and collards. Whole beds of cilantro and dill. It feels diverse and fun, after a yard full of tomatoes last summer.
However I still wanted lots of tomatoes. So I knew I needed to find a system where I could plant more closely. Enter: Staking and Pruning. Each tomato plant has its own stake and will be trained to climb up it (basically, that means I tie it up a lot), and each plant will be pruned to only the leader. No side shoots allowed. This should keep them tidy, with plenty of airflow around them.
Does this mean more work for me? Um, yes. I'm going to have to spend some quality time every week in the tomato patch, keeping things ship-shape. I'm also probably going to have to amend the soil at some point with some organic, all-purpose fertilizer, or more compost, or worm castings. Luckily the soil is in top form after all those covers this winter.
I usually use tomato twine to keep things tied up, which is fine - soft and durable. But I wanted something a little more sturdy for the bottoms of the plants as the main stem grows thicker and stronger. So I found this sort of velcro strapping - and I love it.
I have them nice and loose right now, to leave plenty of room for the stem to grow. We'll see how these fare as the pressure on them grows greater, but as of right now, they are terrific.
What system have you decided to use in your garden this year?
Here's a list of the tomatoes I'm growing, with links to their descriptions.
Cherry: Sungold, Austin Red Pear, Beam's Yellow Pear, and two new ones, Green Vernissage, which is leading the race and is the tallest tomato in the patch, and Black Vernissage. We always plant a few cherries because they ripen first and give us our first tomato taste of the season while the bigger guys ripen. Also, Tom likes to go out and pick a pint-jar-full every morning to take to work, either with cucumbers and rice vinegar, or with fresh mozzarella and basil.
Slicers/Beefsteak: Italian Heirloom (technically a slicer but meaty like a paste, I planted two), Dester, Big Dena (new to us), Black from Tula (new to us), Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Kellogg's Breakfast, Martha Washington, Carbon (new to us), Pink Berkeley Tie Dye, Dr. Wyche's Yellow, Mortgage Lifter, Vorlon (new to us), Black Beauty (new to us), Kolb (new to us), Pineapple (new to us), and Crnkovic Yugoslavian (new to us). I have a lot of dark colored tomatoes and yellow tomatoes. The yellow ones seem to go later into the fall and form the backbone of our late summer/early fall production. The purple ones seem to have the deepest flavor.
Paste/Plum: Gezahnte (new to us, I've planted two), Cour di Bue (new to us), Ukrainian Purple, Hungarian Heart (I planted two), Opalka, Amish Paste, and Sheboygan. I use these mostly for cooking down into canned goods. I like paste tomatoes that are very large and thick, because they seem to do better resisting blossom end rot.
So, here's to tomatoes, and here's to summer! It was 89 degrees in our yard yesterday afternoon, but it looks like we're going to cool down again, thankfully.