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In pursuit of the ultimate tomato support

The thin jute twine proved to be ineffective to support the weight of tomatoes on the vine.
The thin jute twine proved to be ineffective to support the weight of tomatoes on the vine. Joe Lamp'l

The weight of a loaded bunch of full-size tomatoes growing from the plant is a lot. With countless methods and systems devised and improvised over the years to support them, the common denominator to a good system is that it has to be sturdy enough to hold the weight and contain the height of the plant. This reminds me why I dislike the flimsy wire inverted cone things so much.

One of the experimental staking systems I used this season is known as the Florida Weave. Tall sturdy stakes or fence posts at the end of the bed anchor rows of twine running horizontally along the plant at various levels. The idea is to weave the line between plants growing in a single row as a way to support and contain the sprawling branches. It’s used in commercial growing operations a lot.

When done properly it works well and is very cost effective. However, in our case, we experimented in one bed with using natural jute twine. Our hope was to get a full season out of it before it rotted. Fail!

No sooner had the tomatoes developed decent size and weight when the load became too much for the string. The twine first stretched and then broke. That led to branches breaking under the weight, often pulling other branches down with them. Without the necessary lateral support, full plants buckled under the burden.

At the first opportunity, we restrung the weave with nylon bailing line (virtually indestructible), repositioned the wayward branches and pruned away damaged limbs. Fortunately, tomato plants are very resilient. In a couple weeks I suspect these plants will be good as new.

In the meantime, I took the opportunity to help my plants along by reducing some of the load. Removing a few of the large almost fully red tomatoes was in order and I wasted no time moving into action.

The moral of the story is: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. I’ve used many different methods over the years to provide support to my tomato plants with mixed results. Since I haven’t found the perfect solution yet, I’m always trying new methods. Here’s hoping I find the ultimate tomato support.

Joe Lamp'l is the host and executive producer of Growing a Greener World on national public television, and the founder of The joe gardener Company, devoted to environmentally responsible gardening and sustainable outdoor living.