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Growing Healthy Tomatoes--Part 1

May 21, 2014

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In California, I’ve usually grown five tomato plants in cages in a 4 x 8 foot bed. I staked them in Massachusetts and grew many more plants. I’ve touted the wonders of  the sturdy Texas Tomato Cages. These are my tomatoes last summer, mid-July looking strong and healthy after a sunny, warm May and June. 

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Here are the same tomato plants one month later. We had a very cool, foggy summer. My efforts to prune the lower leaves to control tomato early blight were insufficient. Doubtless, my plants were too bushy, too close together and fungal disease ran roughshod over the crop; too few leaves to support fruit production.

This has been the fate of my tomatoes the last two summers. Briefly, I considered skipping tomatoes this year. 

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Before that, I had decent harvests of tomatoes that tolerate a cool, short summer, Stupice, Early Girl, Debaro. Siberian tomatoes do well here. But perhaps our summers are changing and I won’t be able to count on July and August being warm and dry.

Recently a local garden guru at my favorite nursery posited that the only way to successfully grow tomatoes in the peninsular, ocean environment of Point Loma is to stake and prune them. Proving the point, I marveled last summer at tomato plants staked, growing 30 feet from water’s edge with not a trace of blight or mildew. Meanwhile, my plants withered in cages.

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So this year I left the Texas Tomato Cages in the garden shed and rounded up an odd-lot of sturdy stakes. The plants on the right had a two week head start. Gardening is about experimentation.

If you’re considering staking your tomatoes this summer, check back tomorrow. I’ll post a few links that will give you the how to and more reasons why staking is a great–albeit more labor intensive–way to grow tomatoes under less than perfect growing conditions.

And I’m remembering my novice gardening days in Massachusetts when I planted 24 tomato plants on stakes.

Addendum: In hot, dry regions of the Southwest, growing in cages may be preferable to staking.. A bushy tomato plant shades the fruit and cools the soil.

Growing Healthy Tomatoes--Part 2

Growing Up: Vertical Gardening Techniques