This isn't your ordinary tomato garden! A few years back, I decided to try an adventurous new idea in my cottage garden. I love it when an idea actually works, but this one worked even better than I expected!
I decided that for one year, I would try to grow my tomatoes as vines. I vaguely remember hearing the idea somewhere in the past, but I was in no way sure that the idea would work since I had never seen it personally. But, I was willing to give it a try... for one season anyway :)
My goal was to build a 12ft long arbor down the middle of the cottage garden. The outside would be shaded with the fruiting tomato vines, while the inside was to provide a shady sanctuary from the summer sun. Under this arbor would have also been a great place to grow some crops such as lettuce, which do not like the hot summer sun. The concept was a wonderful one, but now I needed to find a way to make it happen - especially on a very low gardening budget!
Here's what we decided to do.
- We basically built a large rectangle shaped box using 2X4s. You can pick these up pretty cheap at a local saw mill! We connected 2 long rectangles measuring 12ft long & 6ft high by a 6ft board (stabilizing brace) at the top and bottom of each end. This gave us a 6ft. wide path inside the arbor.
You could use wood you already have, some sturdy branches (that's what I would use now - due to the fact that I have so many here in the woods!), free pallets, rough cut lumber from a local saw mill, etc.
* Never use pressure treated wood for your food garden, as there is a possibility of the chemicals leaching out into the surrounding soil.
- Long nails were nailed into both the top & bottom boards at 12 inch intervals on each side of the arbor.
- To make the tomato supports on the sides of the arbor, we used a heavy string that can be purchased from any $1 store. We tied it to the first nail on the bottom, then going from bottom to top, we looped the string around each nail (it's nice to go around each nail 2X for added strength) until the whole side was covered with string. We did this on both sides and across the top.
You can use many things to make your side supports such as; garden netting, or wire with large openings. At the time, we just needed to use the most frugal option available, and string happened to be it :)
Tomatoes were planted along each side of the arbor, spaced 12 inches apart. This placed each plant in front of the string support it would need to climb up the arbor. Each planting hole is prepared just as you would in any ordinary garden - filled with lots of rich soil & compost.
I know what you're saying... besides the arbor, it looks like any other tomato garden to me!
Here's where things start to change.
As your tomato plants grow, they will begin to develop new branches out from the center stalk. At every elbow (the section where a branch meets the center stalk) of these new branches, a new 2nd branch will begin. This 2nd set of new growth is called a sucker. This extra growth causes the plant to stay shorter and take the shape of a bush instead of a vine. As you see the new 2nd set of branches starting to form, simply snap them out. Doing this will cause the plant to grow up instead of out. As the plant gets taller, you will need to support it by gently wrapping it around the string as it grows.
I found that the plants grew very quickly, and after a few months, the vines were over 8ft tall and had covered the sides and the top of the arbor! Not only had the plants grown to cover the arbor, but they were filled with beautiful tomatoes, some of which were 3lbs each! You see, as you remove the suckers and allow the plant to grow taller, you also allow more of the plant's energy to shift towards producing fruit for the plant.
You could also use this technique on a smaller scale. For example - you could grow a single tomato plant on your patio using a pot and a trellis. Also don't forget the huge variety of tomatoes that there are to choose from! I choose an old variety that my pap-paw always used called - Big Tom (which might explain the 3lb tomatoes!)
Our little experiment turned out so successful, that we had enough tomatoes to last us the entire year!