Ruth Viste is an experimenter, always searching for the best and easiest growing methods for her 2¼-acre market garden. She tries out ways to keep her soil healthy, to space and stake different vegetable crops and to harvest more efficiently.
Ruth's market garden is in the town of Maiden Rock in southwestern Wisconsin. There she grows tomatoes and other vegetables for herself, seven other families, a farmers market and local restaurants.
She especially experiments with her tomatoes. With 400 tomato plants representing 48 different varieties, she has a lot of room to try new methods. She grows 12 different cherry tomatoes of all different shapes and colors, 17 traditional, red varieties, three paste and 16 other colors (including yellow, orange, red, purple and green!). "This year I lost any form of self control," she admitted. To keep it all manageable, she has become an expert in labor- and time-saving techniques.
"Being a single-person operation, I need to do things the easiest way I can," she said. Recently, she found a superior tomato support solution: Gardener's Supply Tomato Ladders. And she’s got the experience, and the experiments, to back it up.
1. Give yourself plenty of room between rows. "I plant mine 5 feet apart with straw between the rows. That provides better air circulation, plus I can move around the plants. If the rows are only three feet apart, you aren't going to be able to walk without stepping on tomatoes," Ruth said.
2. Red Tomato Mulch "It warms up the soil well and the tomatoes really thrive on that."
When you love growing tomatoes as much as Ruth Viste, there is not a simple answer to the question "What's your favorite variety?" Here are hers:
Plant support is key to successful tomato growing. Good support keeps the vines growing vertically instead of sprawling all over the ground. The plants then take up less space, the plants are less susceptible to pests and disease, the tomatoes are easier to harvest, and the fruits don’t rot or get eaten by mice.
A few years ago, Ruth tried four different methods of staking tomatoes: bamboo, concrete reinforcing wire, heavy-gauge metal Tomato Spirals and Tomato Ladders. Her favorite? Tomato Ladders. She found that tomato ladders were the easiest to train vines to, the easiest to harvest from and the easiest to store. So she bought 50 more.
Here is a summary of what she did and what she found:
Bamboo trellis: For each bamboo trellis, Ruth constructed two, four-legged teepees with a tomato plant at each bamboo cane. Then, she connected the two teepees with a ridge pole for more support. She used twine to tie the canes together and to train the vines.
Ruth found that bamboo trellises worked well, but were labor intensive. She had to retie them a couple of times during the summer and during a windstorm a few were knocked down.
Concrete reinforcement wire: She encircled each tomato plant with a cage made of concrete reinforcing wire. The plant was well supported, but she found it difficult to reach inside the cage to harvest the tomatoes. Plus they took up way to much space in storage.
"Eight of them take up half of my garage!" she said.
Heavy-gauge metal spirals: These work well, especially if you trim the suckers and lower branches from the plants so the plant doesn't sprawl too much, she said. However, Ruth likes to allow her plants to get bushy, and bacause space was't an issue, the spirals weren't the best choice for her garden.
Tomato Ladders: For each plant, she used twine to tie the plant to a Gardener's Supply Tomato Ladder. "When the plant got really big, I just wrapped twine around the whole thing, to keep it staked to the tomato ladders," she said.
The plants grew right up the ladders and during harvest the tomatoes were easy to see and easy to pick, she said.
"They are also easier to remove and store," she said. "When I'm done, I just stack them up and store the 5-foot stack in my garage." And they're ready for next year.
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