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Stakes: Our Tomato “Experiment”

By calling it an “experiment” rather than a “mistake,” I hope it sounds more like something we planned, like a conscious hypothesis we intended to prove. If so, let me state for the record that pruning and staking up tomato plants is incredibly important (especially for “indeterminate” varieties) because this year we did neither very systematically and in the end we paid the penalty.

We had a bumper crop of our “paste” style tomatoes but they were strewn across the mulched beds like the contents of an upturned basket. Many ripened normally because the mulch kept them from soil contact, but many, oh too many others became food for ants and “rolly-pollies” as they ripened. Others just liquified where the fruit rested on the ground. It is not a pleasant sensation to pick up what looks like a healthy and delicious tomato only to have it collapse into goo in ones fingers. I like to believe that the thick mulch of grass clippings upon which they lay may have slowed the attack and decay but at this point I don’t know if that really matters for much.

The season was not a failure by any means. Steaming pot of tomatoes cooked down to sauce on the stove that found its way into our freezer and into our meals. Still, I know that the bounty would have been greater had we stuck with our usual practice of staking and pruning all of our tomato plants.

Rather than beat ourselves up too much, let’s just review the benefits of staking tomato plants so it’s all fresh in our minds for next season:
• tomatoes are easier to harvest from staked up plants
• staking keeps your lovely tomatoes away from ground-level bugs
• staked tomato plants have less soil to leaf contact, which inhibits the spread of infections
• tomato fruits on stakes are better kept away from mammals (I fear we provided quite the banquet for “Cosmic Charlie,” the neighborhood skunk who waddles between the houses dependably every night at 10:00.)
• pruning makes for healthier plants.

Good things to keep in mind as spring, and further “experiments” in gardening, are really not that far away.

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