Cascadian Farm
Tomato Gardening at our Home Farm
Mike Peroni - Organic Farmer

Hi, I’m Mike Peroni, and I am the farmer here at Cascadian Farm’s Home Farm in Rockport. It’s late May and I have been driven into the office by a deluge. We get about 80” of rain a year here in the North Cascades and it feels like we might get that all in one day!

I thought I might take the opportunity to share a few pictures I have taken recently and show you how we prune and train our tomatoes.

Today’s gardener has a treasure trove of tomato varieties to choose from starting with the type. Will you grow a slicer? Cherry tomatoes? Grape tomatoes? Try your hand at an heirloom? Once you have decided what type of tomato you will grow one of the first considerations is whether to grow a ‘determinate’ or  ‘indeterminate’ plant. Determinate varieties tend to have a concentrated fruit set that ripens all at once and are more compact and manageable. They are an excellent choice if you have limited space, and the best choice for container gardening. Indeterminate varieties ripen over a longer period of time, have a vining and sometimes wildly unmanageable growth habit and require staking and training. Most heirloom varieties and older hybrids are indeterminate. Determinate varieties have been bred for their stature and ability to ripen early, often sacrificing flavor along the way.

At Cascadian Home Farm we grow tomatoes primarily for taste and so tend to grow these older indeterminate varieties. Western Washington has notoriously mild summers and we grow all of our tomatoes and peppers in an unheated green house. This helps guarantee a harvest of ripe tomatoes and is a great way to avoid late blight. It also makes it a bit easier to trellis as we can use the greenhouse structure itself to support the plants. You can easily replicate this by providing two stout poles, one at either end of the row, and a beam stretching between the posts. Be sure to provide a structure strong enough to support the weight of the plant when it is loaded with fruit!

What follows is a simple method of training and pruning those old school hybrids and heirlooms:

Indeteminate tomatoes grow as vines with a clearly identifiable leader or main stem. We let our plants get about two feet tall before we prune. We identify two strong, healthy ‘leaders’ and prune everything else. Where the laterals meet the main stem and branch off, you will find these small ‘suckers’ growing, and those are what we are going to prune out.  If not pruned and supported the energy of the plant will go into production of vegetative (more leafy and viney) material rather than into the production of tomatoes, leaving you with a wildly vigorous plant but small fruit.

You can easily prune these out by hand simply rolling the ‘sucker’ off the plant with your thumb and pointer finger. We waltz through the greenhouse and prune our tomatoes about every ten days to two weeks. If you remain diligent with your pruning it is this easy, if you let it go too long and the suckers grow large, you may need to use a pruner and carefully cut these out.

Our method of trellising is equally simple. We tie baling twine to a greenhouse support above the plant then drape the twine down to tie it or clip it to the base of the tomato. Then we gently wrap the leader around the twine, or the twine around the leader or both. As the plant grows we continue to wrap the twine around the leader as we prune out the suckers.

This is a great example of how things should look. Note that we have two main vines on one plant and have simply wrapped the twine firmly but gently around the plant as it grows. Voilà! This is an easy system that utilizes inexpensive materials and provides stellar results. Just look at these nice neat rows!