Thursday, June 23, 2011

Building Tomato Trellis Structures

We are growing tomatoes in two of our six raised beds.  Bed #5 has one main row of indeterminate heirloom tomatoes plus a few more smaller variety tomatoes (Tiny Tim and Patio).  Bed #6 sort of has two main rows of indeterminate heirloom tomatoes - "sort of" because the plants are not all in neat lines.  I have a good excuse for this disarray.

My excuse is that I planted some of my dying tomato seedlings in these beds hoping for the best, and when it looked like "best" wasn't going to happen, I went out and bought some tomato transplants to replace them.  When I planted the store-bought transplants, I should have pulled the home-grown dying ones, but I just couldn't do it.  They looked sickly and sad, but they weren't completely dead yet and I told myself that I would pull them "next week" when they really died.

Well, would you believe that most of these sick tomato seedlings actually came back to life?  I couldn't believe it either, but somehow they did.  They look almost as good as the store-bought ones now.  Although it makes me really happy to see them bouncing back to life, now Bed #5 is quickly becoming overcrowded and Bed #6 has tomatoes growing "out of line."  As a good logical gardener, I should probably thin out some plants in Bed #5 and give the remaining ones a good chance to thrive.  But as an emotional first time heirloom tomato gardener, I just can't bring myself to dig up good healthy-looking plants.  What to do, what to do...

So instead of making the right decision, I went ahead and just moved forward with the plans to build trellis structures for them.  After reviewing numerous tomato support options (various shapes of cages, stakes, weaving, etc.) on the web and on fellow gardeners' blogs, we decided to do what we do best and improvise our own trellis structure using the most economical option we could find at the local Home Depot, which turned out to be 10-foot electrical conduits and string.

This is a front-view of our Bed #5.  In the front part of the bed are carrots, Patio and Tiny Tim tomatoes, and some basil.  In the middle are onions.  The back part of the bed has all tomatoes.  For the trellis structure, Keith pounded four 10-foot electrical conduits two feet in the ground (thus giving us 8-foot vertical support), and tied another 10-foot section across the top using expert lashing skills from his Boy Scout days.  We then tied three sets of strings horizontally across the four vertical poles in 10-inch intervals.  On the right side of the picture, you can also see a few vertically tied strings, because I wanted to experiment with both vertical and horizontal string options.

I secured each tomato plant to the horizontal string using Velcro plant ties.  As the tomatoes grow taller, more strings will be tied every 10-inches and the plants will be secured to the strings using the same method.

In Bed #6, we designed the trellis structure a bit differently.  We pounded three rows of four 10-foot electrical conduits two feet in the ground.  Each column of three poles was tied to a 2.5 ft section of electrical conduit for additional stability.  The trellis structures in both Beds #5 and #6 were further stabilized with strings anchored down like guy-wires.  In the above picture, you can also see some shorter vertical green poles in the foreground - never mind them, they are part of my makeshift bean/cucumber trellis in Bed #3.

Keith then created what I now think of as Tomato Jungle Gym in Bed #6.  He tied strings every which way.  Ha, just kidding.  The way he tied these strings was actually very methodical - horizontally across each of the three rows (each row with four poles), and then diagonally between each column from first row to third row.   He tied two sets like this about a foot apart, and plans to tie more as the plants grow taller.  I don't know if I described that very well, but hopefully you can see what I meant by looking at the pictures.

Here's a side view of Bed #6.  This bed isn't quite as crowded as Bed #5, but the plants are not planted in two neat lines, so this Jungle Gym structure will hopefully work well to catch and support various tomato branches as the plants grow up and out.

These pictures were all taken last Sunday, and this week has been warm and rainy in Indianapolis, so I'm hoping to see some good growing process when I get back home this weekend.  I don't know if these heirlooms will really grow up to and maybe even past 8 feet tall, but I'm certainly hoping!


Annie's Granny said...

This should prove interesting ;-)

And to think, I went from four to three indeterminate heirlooms in a 4x8-foot bed, 'cause I felt four were crowding it too much! I actually had seven in that bed a couple of years ago, but it was such a jungle I couldn't find the tomatoes!

Robin said...

I can't wait to see how your systems work out for you.

All those strings reminds me of Cats in the Cradle game we used to play when I was young!

Jody said...

I'm betting your tomatoes reach the very top of your trellis. Did you buy a ladder at Home Depot while you were there?

Daphne said...

I'm glad your tomatoes proved to be hardier than you thought. I always like to be surprised like that.

thyme2garden said...

Granny, I actually remembered you talking about your tomato spacing as I was doing this. I'm hoping that my plants won't grow as big as yours. What crazy gardener hopes that her plants won't grow to their full potential??? (raises hand) This one! I figure we can't all have your magic touch with tomatoes. :-)

Robin - you and me both! Yeah, the strings are a bit crazy, but I think we got them tied strategically where we won't trip over them every time. Maybe every other time.

Jody - thank you for your kind words! We actually already had a ladder so Keith used that to pound the conduits in. It was still difficult, though, because there wasn't enough room to spread out the ladder for the most part and the ground below our raised beds is *very* hard.

Daphne - that is definitely the preferred kind of garden surprise, rather than the opposite!

RandomGardener said...

I've had one of my tomatoes come back from the dead, too. Unlike you, I was quite lax at replacing/adding another one in that space, and wouldn't you know, when I got around to checking on it, it had some new leaves and looks ok now.

Your tomato plants look awesome, sigh, mine were too, except deer thought the same thing and ate the tops of all 12 in the same row...

Karen said...

Enjoyed reading about the ones you didn't dispose of and that they are doing well. You might enjoy reading my blog about Mortgage Lifters on my site Back Road Journal. I've ended up with 19 plants because it's hard to be ruthless. Right now I'm worried about blight because of our cool,damp weather and may be very happy to have some extra plants. I will continue to read your site, best of luck with the garden.

thyme2garden said...

Random - good to hear that you had some tomato recovery as well. And sorry that deer ate your plants. Yikes!

Karen - thank you. I actually have some Mortgage Lifters growing, so I'll definitely check out your blog, too.

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