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A way of training tomatoes for best fruit production - an adaption of the system used in commercial greenhouses.

I figured that the commercial growers would have worked out the best way to get maximum benefit from their investment so their system bore looking at and adapting.

What they do is instal inside the roof of the greenhouse, a suspension system to enable the Tomato plant to continue to grow, to be supported and the crop to be easily picked. There is a string from a reel in the roof tied to the plant when it is very small and it is wound around the growing stem. The first crop is picked and by then the plant is almost to roof height so (amazingly!) the stem is then coiled on the ground and the string let down from the reel in the roof.

Not having access to any overhead devices, I used what I had which are 6ft stakes which when belted into the ground yield 5ft of useable height. Anyway, I’m only 5ft 3in tall so having fruit much higher than I can reach is not much use to me. Those taller folk who have access to taller stakes or frames can have their plants a lot higher and work closer to the ideal and won't need multiple stems.

Start off with the single stem the plant comes with - oh and you can plant Tomatoes in the soil up to their first pair of leaves, giving them a bigger root ball for stability and taking up nutrients.

Remove the laterals regularly - at least weekly -

and tie the plant onto the stake with a long string right up to the top of the stake. Or tie it to a trellis. It’s useful to drill a hole in the top of the stake to thread the string through. [The above 3 photos show different types of laterals - see the Album 'Tomato Taming' for more description]

As the plant grows, just twiddle it around the stem with the string.

The fruit will start to form and by this time the plant is up to the top of the stake, then remove the growing tip. This will stop its upward march but encourage the development of even more laterals. Not an ideal situation but you get that! So allow one stem to grow from the base of the plant - Tomatoes are enthusiastic growers and new stems will not be hard to find! Tie this stem up like the first one, remove the laterals as before. And unless you need an extra stem, remove the stems which arise from near the roots.

[This is ONE plant!]

With indeterminate Tomatoes - and that is the majority of varieties we grow this system works particularly well.

With determinate Tomatoes - the dwarf ones - it is not so necessary and probably a waste of time. Determinate Tomatoes usually produce one or two flushes of fruit then the plant goes into decline and that’s it finished. By the time a determinate Tomato starts to make extra stems it is in decline anyway so no need to do anything except harvest your crop.

The small-fruited Tomatoes can support up to 3 stems before they start to decline, the full-sized varieties run to 2 stems.

I’ve heard that Capsicums, Zucchini (with difficulty), Cucumbers and Aubergine (Egg Plant) can grow using this system. I have tried it with Capsies but they produce branchlets in a different way to Tomatoes and I have not persevered with it. Cukes can be tamed in this way more easily than I imagine Aubergine can.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Tomatoes trained in this way produce superior quantities of larger-sized fruit - especially the small-fruited varieties which tend to have myriads of tiny almost-unuseable fruit. It’s worth the effort!

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Comment by Lissa on September 13, 2015 at 15:15

Good blog Elaine :)

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on September 14, 2010 at 20:14
Being ultra-cautious, Donna ... not my usual style! I've wondered if composting them would be kind of Homoeopathic if composting adds energy like succussion does. Or even Biodynamic since all that stirring is adding energy very similar to the shaking in Homoeopathic medicine. I've never been game to try it. I would love to hear from someone who regularly composts Tomato waste and if they have better than expected crops.
Comment by Donna on September 14, 2010 at 16:35
Why don't you compost tomato plants?
Comment by Elaine de Saxe on September 14, 2010 at 14:33
Wow ... 20kg or so, not a tonne ;-) OK the leaves ... I usually remove them and put them in the rubbish bin, I never compost Tomato plants but sometimes do the excess green fruit. By the time the plant grows the height I can reach, that stem is starting to die off and that's signalled by the dying leaves. Or so it seems. By the time the 3rd stem is 6ft high, the whole plant is on its final run anyway.

There's been less leaves dying since I swapped to my current soilless mix but then I'm using more compost and worm castings than I used to as well and tank water too. So it's getting hard to tell what works or whether it's a number of factors. I've got a bit of a system going now with the single-stem growth pattern and that would contribute since it promotes air movement, I imagine.

This season I have seen the best ever Tomatoes and Parsley ... just the season, I wish I could bottle it. Do not know how to repeat the performance. Others have reported great crops too but just of some varieties, not every plant. Weird. Many questions, few answers!
Comment by Tracy Arnold on September 14, 2010 at 9:13
As the plants grow and the bottom leaves get brown, do you leave them on or prune them off? I've read arguments for both - pruning increases air flow and decreases chance for disease and bugs, but leaving them on creates much needed shade for the fruit. Since you got about 1000kg of tomatoes from your last harvest, I'm guessing whatever you do works ;)
Comment by Elaine de Saxe on September 10, 2010 at 22:31
And if you grow a well-flavoured variety, well worth it! Out of all the weird and wonderful systems and lack of systems I've tried over the years, this is the simplest and consistently yields good results, all other things being equal.
Comment by Florence on September 10, 2010 at 21:36
I am not sure I get how this work, but will experiment with it ~
Currently tying them to a stake and nipping out laterals (missed a lot though), also using roughly made cages from trellis that are laying around ~ It's a lot of work growing tomatoes but also a lot of fun ~
Comment by Donna on September 10, 2010 at 17:38
Thanks Elaine, will have to give it a try!

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