I guess you could say I’m a lazy gardener. I’m always looking for the easiest way to grow more fruits and vegetables, while spending less time doing it. You see, as much as I enjoy gardening, sometimes there are other things I would rather be doing. When it comes to growing tomatoes I definitely like to take the easy route. I’ve tried all sorts of different methods for growing and supporting tomatoes over the years, but my current favorite way is to cage them, using cages made of concrete reinforcing mesh.
These days I make the cages big – about 22 inches in diameter, and plant two tomatoes in each cage. I’ve found that the two tomatoes do a better job of filling out the cage, and they also seem to be more productive. Since I raise all my plants from seed, the cost of the extra plants is minimal.
I mulch around all the cages while the plants are still small. I used black planters mulch on the early planted cages. The jury is still out on whether the black paper warms the soil enough to justify the cost, but since I have a lot of it left I will continue to use it until it’s gone. It is somewhat difficult to work with, since you have to roll it out then plant the tomatoes through slits you cut in the paper. But it does hold up well throughout the season.
I much prefer using newspaper for mulch. It’s free, for one thing, and you can spread the sheets out around the tomatoes after they are planted, which makes it easier to deal with than the planters paper. Once the papers are placed like I want them, I “spear” them with the tomato cages so they stay in place. In the main garden, I have two rows of tomatoes planted with straw covered paper between the rows.
I do very little to the caged tomatoes other than to “work” the cages every few days to keep the vines inside the mesh. I don’t sucker them, and I don’t prune them. I do feed them periodically with a slow release organic tomato fertilizer, and I give them a drink of fish emulsion occasionally as well.
Since I started mulching all my tomatoes, I rarely have blossom end rot (BER) problems. The soils in our area generally have plenty of calcium, and as long as the PH is not out of whack the mulching prevents the fluctuations in soil moisture that can bring on BER. Mulching also helps prevent soil borne diseases from getting on the tomato leaves.
The early planted tomatoes are racing to the top of their cages already. We’re still waiting for the first ripe one, but it won’t be much longer. The tomatoes in the main garden were planted about two weeks later, and most of them are more than halfway up the cages. All are looking good so far, with no signs of disease or pest problems. I generally do not spray my tomato plants with anything unless an insect problem develops, like tobacco hornworms. The hornworms were bad at the church garden last year, so I sprayed with Bt which quickly got them under control. So far they haven’t been a problem at HA, but I will certainly be on the watch for them.
I do have about eight determinate tomato plants that I will be supporting with the stake and weave (aka Florida Weave) support system again this year. They are mostly short vine paste varieties, and I think the cages don’t really support them very well. I will write more about that method later in the season. We have about 50 tomato plants at the church garden and we will be using the stake and weave method there exclusively.
So that’s all I have to say about tomatoes, and my “easy” way of growing them. With any luck, I’ll get to spend some time like Sidd this summer – taking it easy on the porch. At least that’s my plan!