Posts Tagged ‘tomato trellis’

Improved Tomato Trellis

Sunday, June 14th, 2015
Two T-post and Bamboo Tomato Trellises

Two T-post and Bamboo Tomato Trellises

Last year I bought a bundle of 7’ bamboo stakes specifically to build a reliable tomato trellis.  I built a beefy structure that performed well, but it had drawbacks.  Here is last year’s trellis post.

T-post and Bamboo Used as Stakes

T-post and Bamboo Used as Stakes

This year I’ve simplified the design.  I eliminated the traditional tomato cages. In a well-trellised system, the cages are only in the way.  They are hard to weed around and fruit gets wedged in the wires.  I’m also using the t-posts that hold up the structure as trellising stakes for the plants adjacent to the posts, so I’m using less bamboo than last year.

Lacing Stems with Jute Twine

Lacing Stems with Jute Twine

As the tomatoes grow, I’ll start lacing the main stem to the stakes.  I’m going to be more aggressive in pruning than in previous years and probably trim down to two leaders (main branches)  per plant in most cases.

Three Across

Three Across

The trellises work well with my three across tomato plant arrangement.

Four x Two T-Post Structure

Four x Two T-Post Structure

The larger trellis supports 33 tomato plants.

Three x Two T-Post Structure

Three x Two T-Post Structure

The smaller structure supports 27 plants.

Bamboo Laced Back to the T-post Frame

Bamboo Laced Back to the T-post Frame

I like using t-posts for trellising in open raised beds.  They can stand up to any wind and hold huge loads.  And they can be integrated with all types of trellising materials.  While they require a little bit of physical effort to set up, I think the benefits make them an ideal choice for trellis supports.

Tomato Trellis Performs Well

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014
Trellis September 24th

Trellis September 24th

Trellis Early July

Trellis Early July

Early in July I posted about a heavy duty tomato trellis I constructed with T Posts and bamboo stakes: T Post and Bamboo Tomato Trellis.   I’m happy to report the trellis performed exceptionally well.   I’m going to build one again, next year and I already know some minor changes I’m going to make.

Lacing the Stems to the Bamboo Forced Vertical Growth

Lacing the Stems to the Bamboo Forced Vertical Growth

Lacing the tomato stems to the bamboo forces the plants to maintain excellent vertical growth. A lot of the plants are growing well over the 8 foot height of the bamboo poles. The tomato fruit had a tendency to follow the foliage growth up the poles so as the season progressed the tomatoes were easier to pick as they moved upwards.

Tomato Cages Made Weeding Difficult

Tomato Cages Made Weeding Difficult

Next year I hope to put the structure up first, then plant the tomato transplants next to the bamboo poles. The traditional conical tomato cages that I used became a hindrance to weeding and I’m going to eliminate them next year. I thought I might need them for structural support, but I don’t think they are necessary.

While I thought the plants were far enough apart, I’m going to open up the spacing and plant less plants. I experienced some leaf blight and that sometimes can be reduced by better air flow. The blight didn’t seem to slow things down, but the closeness of the plants made it a little difficult to prune them and tie them up. I’ll leave out some of the varieties that did not perform well this year. And as we had way more tomatoes than we needed, leaving a few plants out will probably be a good thing.

Tomatoes Are Easy to Harvest

Tomatoes Are Easy to Harvest

We’ll be picking tomatoes until frost and I also expect the structure to offer some good support for covering the tomatoes with poly to try to extend the season and get them through the first mild frost.

T-Post and Bamboo Tomato Trellis

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Tomato Trellis

I didn’t have the heart to cull out some of my beautiful and healthy tomato starts so I ended up with 78 plants in two beds.  My normal planting is 60 plants in two beds so I had to cheat a little on the spacing.  I opened up the width across the rows and pushed the plants as far to the edges of the bed as I thought I might get away with.  I still came close to a 20″ spacing between plants and that’s close to what I always do.

I’d already determined that I was going to develop a trellis system using the eight foot bamboo stakes I bought last year. I wanted a structure with more rigidity and easier maintenance than previous trellises.  I knew bamboo stakes would work.  This is the result.

In this planting are three each of 24 different heirlooms or open pollinated varieties and one hybrid – Sungold, the excellent little orange cherry tomato that is usually the first and last tomato harvested each year. Also here (seen below) are three tomatillos, not quite a tomato, but pretty close.  Their growing requirements are nearly the same.

T-posts, Bamboo Poles, and Cages

T-posts, Bamboo Poles, and Cages

I put tomato cages around my seedlings while they are still small and train the plants to stay inside the cages. Many gardeners don’t like traditional cages, but I find them useful in that they give me some time to get a more beefy structure set up. Plus I use the cages as a framework to tie everything back to the t-posts. This creates kind of a tension structure that is close to impervious to winds and the weight of heavy plants.

I have four t-posts on each side of the bed. The t-posts are 90 inches long overall with about 16” driven into the ground, so the structure frame is about six feet tall. I like using t-posts for trellising. They are rock solid once they are in the ground and they are easy to tie off to. I use a cheap jute twine for most of my trellising. It’s soft enough that it can be used on plant stems. And it’s biodegradable and rots away in a season in the compost pile so I don’t have a disposal problem as I would with a plastic tie.

Tying into T-posts for Support

Tying into T-posts for Support

I use one bamboo pole for each plant set next to the main stem and aligned with the t-posts. I tie the cages into each other and to the t-posts wherever I can.

Lacing It All Together

Lacing It All Together

All the outer bamboo gets tied off to a t-post or a lateral bamboo framing pole, so they have a lot of rigidity. The bamboo poles in the center are free standing, but laced into their adjacent poles. This should give the center poles enough stiffness (I hope) to handle the loading as the plants mature.

Stems Tied Around Bamboo

Stems Tied Around Bamboo

I’m training the plants to be as vertical as possible by loosely wrapping multiple stems around the bamboo using the jute twine.   With very little help, tomatoes like to grow upwards.

Lots of Air Flow

Lots of Air Flow

I’m getting lots of air flow through the plants even though they are tightly spaced.  I don’t mulch my tomatoes.  When I tried mulching I had severe slug problems. I now try to keep the ground around the main stems weed free and dry. I prune away low hanging stems and leaves and try to get as much vertical growth as possible.  It took me about a full day to set all this up, but I think I’m going to be very happy with the results.

 

Teaching an Old Dog to Teach

Monday, December 12th, 2011

The outdoor season is over for my 2011 Wisconsin garden.  I may do a little more clean up, and possibly drag in a few leaves to cover up some north beds, but the frost has already penetrated deep and there is nothing left to harvest.  There will be no more weeding or working the soil.  All my efforts now are in preparing for next year.

Gardening patterns and habits repeat themselves as you learn what has to be done to ensure a good harvest, but that hardly means every year is the same.  Change is constant and I’m always ready to try something new or modify what may not be working.  Here are a few new things from this year’s gardening adventure:

Cold Frame

I finally built a small cold frame.     I really didn’t put it to the test until this fall, but the results were excellent and it has me keen on trying more season extending structures.  Next year it’s going to be put to work early in the spring.

New bed

After shrinking my garden area for the past several years, I actually carved out a couple small new beds in the compost area.  The bed project was a test to back up my teachings on making the raised bed system I employ and the ease with which these beds can be formed and put to work.  The results were carrots, beets and peppers that I otherwise would not have had.

Planting Boards

I had been using planting boards for years, but my boards were just scraps of plywood I had laying around.  Not quite right, so this year I cut a couple to exactly the right size and I’m really glad I did.  It makes planting and working on my hands and knees much easier.

T-Post Tomato Trelils

I finally built the rock-solid tomato trellis I had envisioned for many years.  It put an end to the wind blowing over the cages and made it easy for me to string the vines up high.

And lastly, I became a teacher this year.

I’ve actually been giving talks about my garden for several years.  I’m a very loose disciple of the garden teacher Alan Chadwick.  What I really embrace is the open raised beds  of his teachings on intensive food production.  In the past  these talks were done gratis, but I’ve secured some paying engagements next year, and I’ve found that I really enjoy sharing my gardening experience with others.

To be a good teacher you have to keep learning.  And to learn you have to try new things.  I was quite happy with several new things I tried this year and I’ll continue to innovate in the garden in 2012.

 

T-Post Tomato Trellis

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

I finally built a tomato trellis that I’m happy with.  I knew this was a good approach years ago, but it was one of those projects I never took the time to complete.

I usually grow about 30 tomato plants in three rows in one of my 20 feet long by five feet wide beds.  Two years ago, when my crop was decimated by late blight, I learned that blight can be slowed by good air circulation.  Crowded and damp conditions greatly increase the chance of blight, and I certainly was crowding my plants.  I always had good fruit production, but until the blight hit, I didn’t realize I was setting myself up for problems because the plants were too close to breathe properly.

To increase the amount of air circulation around the plants, which I grow up through traditional conical tomato cages, I sloped the outer two  rows of cages outward  and planted the tomatoes farther apart in the rows across the bed.  To keep the cages from falling over as the tomato plants gain weight, I lace all the cages together with jute twine and tie cages adjacent to the T-posts to the posts.  This system will stand up to the strongest wind storms and no matter how heavy the plants get, they cannot pull over the cages.

In years past I set six T-posts per bed along the outside rows and just tried to tie the sprawling plants to the posts where possible.  It was obvious that cross bracing at the top would solve a lot of problems in forcing the plants growth upward.  This year, I used 8 posts per bed and laced branches across and around all the T-Posts at the top.  I’m bundling about three stems of tomatoes together and lacing those to the cross-branches above and back to T-posts wherever I can.  So far it’s working great.  Just a caveat, while good air circulation can reduce blight problems, there is no guarantee that it will prevent blight.

I try to keep the area at ground level pruned of any tomato stems and fruit that may want to lie on the ground.  I don’t mulch my plants for weed protection.  I did that once and had a slug infestation.  The plants seem to like having dry soil at ground level and keeping that area clean really improves air circulation.  I can also verify that a bed full of tomatoes planted intensively really reduces the amount of weeding required.