Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fun Ideas for Growing Tomatoes

Call in Reinforcements

Heavy-gauge concrete reinforcing wire makes a sturdy tomato cage. Cut a length of wire about 5 feet long to make into a cylinder about 18 inches in diameter. Overlap the cut ends and wire them together to make the cage. Wide openings in the mesh make it easy to reach through for picking.

Spiral Into Control

Add artistic flair to your vegetable garden with spiral tomato stakes. Use the spirals alone or in combination with a wire cage. Wind the main stem of the tomato plant around the rings of the spiral. Secure the stem to the stake with a loose garden twist tie or strip of cloth.

It's a Wrap

Make your tomato cage serve double duty by wrapping a wire mesh cylinder (rabbit fencing works well) with clear polyethylene. The wire cylinder supports the plant and the plastic wrap acts as a mini greenhouse boosting tomato growth during cool weather. As summer heats up, remove the plastic covering to make harvest easier, improve airflow through the plant's leaves, and reduce disease problems.

Ladder to Success

Ladderlike cages constructed from 1X2 boards make an attractive way to keep tomato growth well behaved. Use rot-resistant wood such as cedar or redwood. Cut the crosspieces all the same length (14 to 18 inches long, depending on the size of cage you prefer). Make the upright pieces 4 to 5 feet long and insert the bottom 6 to 12 inches into the soil to prevent the towers from toppling in strong winds.

Tepee Tower

Construct a tepee from 2- to 3-inch diameter saplings or bamboo poles. The tepees shown here use four poles as an outer frame and one pole as a central support. For extra stability the design shown here includes crosspieces attached to opposite poles at two levels.

What's at Stake?

Attach the main stem of your tomato plant to a single wooden stake with loose twist ties. (This technique also works well for pepper plants.) As the tomato plant grows taller through the season, add more ties to secure the tip to the pole.

Here's a hint: Remove excess side branches by pinching them off at the main stem before they grow 6 inches long.

Fence Them In

Chain link fencing makes a solid support for clambering tomato vines. You may need to weave stems through the openings in the fence in early stages of growth, but the plants will soon wind their own way through the fence's web. Use an existing fence, or set one up especially for tomatoes to climb.

Aerial Acrobatics

This wood tomato trellis, reminiscent of an old television aerial, is a great way to add style to your garden. Ten angled arms extend from a central support post. Upright stakes connect the arms for added strength. If you have a home orchard, you can repeat the design by training grape vines, apple trees, or pear trees to a similar shape.

Lean on Me

Two wire-mesh panels leaning against each other make a quick-to-assemble support structure for two tomato plants at once. Plant a tomato vine at the base of each panel. Clip or wire the tops together for stability. When it's time to clean up the garden, the panels stack flat, saving on storage space.

Pot Them Up

Decorative pots are ideal for growing tomatoes on a patio, balcony, or deck. If you use a large container, such as a half whiskey barrel almost any type of tomato will work. If you grow plants in a smaller, 10- or 12-inch-diameter pot, select a dwarf variety. 'Patio', 'Window Box Roma Hybrid', and 'Bush Early Girl Hybrid' all grow less than 2 feet tall, and are good choices for containers.

Crate Expectations

Use your imagination to fashion fun, attractive containers for growing tomatoes. These wood crates are lined with landscape fabric to keep potting soil from sifting through the slats. Try planting basil in the same container with a tomato for a fantastic Mediterranean cuisine combo.

Just Hangin' Around

Avoid stooping and bending to tend your tomatoes by growing them in a hanging basket. 'Tumbler Hybrid' is bred especially to hang off a cascading plant, perfect for a hanging basket. Other small varieties suited to growing in containers will drape down, too, once they become laden with fruits.

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