In a recent post I shared how to correctly plant tomato transplants to give them a good start in your garden. Here is the next step to healthy, productive tomato plants. Many people use cages around their tomatoes and maybe you have too. The problem with cages is that they take up lots of garden space, they don’t allow tomato plants to breath thus creating an environment for diseases, and they usually aren’t very effective in controlling indeterminate tomato plants because these plants are so viney. Since I try to maximize my growing space, I have built (with my hubby’s help) something I call tomato gallows. These structures allow tomato plants to be “strung up” a rope.
This saves space, allows for good air flow between plants and between the tomatoes leaves, and make long tomato vines easier to manage. Having tomatoes growing up a rope also allows for an easier harvest because the tomatoes are not hidden inside a jungle of leaves. Another unique thing about tomato gallows is that the plants are pruned to only grow off of one main stem. A tomato plant has many stems that form off the main one that can be pruned off to give you a plant that produces the same amount of tomatoes with less jungle effect.
Since every garden is different, I will share what I do and you can modify it to your own layout. This is just to give you a general idea and picture in you head so that you can modify and build your own gallows to meet your tomato growing needs.
I have raised beds that are 3 feet x7 feet with mulched walk-ways in-between each bed. 18 plants occupy three of the twelve beds so I need three gallows. There are six tomato plants in each bed situated about 12 inches from the edges of the bed and spaced about 20 inches apart (from stem to stem).
For my structures I bought and used 8 foot long 2×3′s that I cut to the following dimensions:
(4) pieces cut to 6 feet, 2.5 inches long for the sides
(2) pieces of 21.5 inch long for the braces on the side
(2) 2×3′s 87 inches long for along the top
I constructed the side pieces first by screwing the braces onto the outside of 2, 6 foot pieces and repeated for the other side. I then put these finished side pieces up against the outside of my raised beds and screwed them directly into the wood of the beds. Taking the 87 inch long top pieces, I screwed them into the top of each side of the side pieces.
*You may not have raised beds to screw directly into but instead you can dig deep holes in your garden and put your side pieces in like posts over your plants. You may want to add several inches to your side pieces length to make up for the height you will lose when you put them in the ground.
After the gallows were put up, I used 9 foot sections of 1/4 inch think rope to string them up. Here’s how to do it:
Drive in a stake (I use old tent stakes) close to the base of you tomato plant (about 2-3 inches away from the stem). *Note: You want to put in your stakes fairly soon after you get your tomatoes in the ground so that you don’t damage the root system.
Tie one end of the rope to the stake.
Find the main stem of your plant by looking for the straightest part of the plant that goes from top to bottom and start winding the rope around the stem, going in and out of the leaves until you reach the top.
Take the rest of the rope, pull it straight up, and tie it to the top of your gallows in a knot that will be easy to undo. As your tomato plants grow, you will need to loosen the rope and continue to wind it around your growing vines so that they are always supported.
After your tomato is fully supported by the rope, you can go in a prune off the extra “branches” that are not the main stem. This is a bit of an ongoing process and can be done throughout the growing season, although it is best to get the bulk of the pruning done early on so as not to stress your tomatoes. The extra stems make the tomatoes very bushy and can usually found toward the bottom of your plant. They are thicker than the leaves and can be cut off with a pruner close to the main stem. I cut off several during my first pruning.
As the season continues, you will also need to pinch off any suckers that form in the crooks between the leaves and the stem to keep you tomato plants from getting too bushy.
This doesn’t take a lot of time but needs to be done fairly regularly. I make it a habit of checking my plants most days and pinching off any suckers I see.
Growing tomatoes vertically allows me save space and cuts down on disease potential while still giving me a great tomato harvest. And I think they look pretty cool as well and add a layer of interest to my garden.
Are you growing anything vertically this year?