Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Being cruel to be kind - pruning tomatoes

Sometimes gardening can feel a lot like parenting as you wait for the fruit to come. There are times when you have to change the direction of a vine tendril, hook up a tailing part of a cucumber, or pull out the weaker seedling so that the stronger one can grow.

After first repotting in cocopeat
There are so many ways that this mimics parenting, directing children to more noble or worthwhile pursuits, picking them up when they have flopped down, asking them to give up something that is either detrimental to their character or is causing them to be divided in their interests. But seeing this is a blog about growing vegetables - rather than children - I will spare you the parenting chat and tell you rather about my bonding time with my tomato plants. 

I have lovingly nurtured these since September when I planted them as seeds. They were carried out into the sunshine on the fine days, hurriedly brought back in on the tempestuous days of early spring when the heavens emptied their watering cans.

We repotted them tenderly into larger pots twice over and then finally set them out into garden beds about a month ago. Each time they were set a little deeper in the soil to make a strong stem and it is said this will produce better fruit.

Traditionally I have always staked my tomatoes as they grow.  However, I found that the wind here in summer causes the gardeners twine to cut into the stems making a weak point where the plant becomes either broken or susceptible to pests and disease. So this year I am trying tomato cages, I think my cages are a bit small, but that's what I have for this year.

Toby - the garden work inspector
A few evenings ago I did the pruning thing. I feel rather cruel when I look at the beautiful strong growth and know that I am about to cut off all the lower branches so that more growth goes upward.

Sometimes tomatoes try to grow two main stems - one is the true stem the other is actually off the main and above soil level. By looking at the one that comes directly from the soil is the easiest way for me to tell which to nip off, which is obviously the one that is not coming out of the soil but off the side of the main stem. Hope that's clear to you readers :)  So that's the first thing to go. The next thing to be pruned are the side shoots until I have about 4 strong growing branches off the main stem.

I have found that this needs to be done within a month of planting out otherwise all the branches are starting to make flowers and then I feel doubly cruel! So snip-snip-snip and I end up with more of a tree shape than a bush shape.

These will be left to grow and I will fed them with worm tea for a few weeks and that should set the on their way to flower production and fruit bearing. 

While waiting at my son's tennis coaching today, I read this delightful memoir of Joe Hewit's first tomato growing experience. I wonder where I can get fish heads from? Not sure if Toby will approve.

I fear the cages are not going to be tall enough!

Linking up at Simple Lives Thursday

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