Staking Tomatos: First Do It Wrong

My approach to getting into gardening has been: First off, do something.

That’s because, generally, it isn’t until after I’ve tried something that I have some idea of what questions need to be asked and answered if I want to do that thing well. I find it’s the hands-on experimentation that both dictates the syllabus of my new learning program and focuses my subsequent research.

So, year one in any new endeavor is usually an experimental year by intention. Gardening was no exception.

My first year, I planted a variety of crops I thought I’d like to grow year after year, and watched to see what happened.

Clearly, I did not understand staking. I knew tomatoes need “stakes,” so I went into the basement woodshop and created several dozen 4-foot long, 3/4-inch wide sticks that ranged around a half inch thick, and into which I drilled 1/4-inch holes every foot or so. The holes were for twine ties. It was a slap-dash process, and the results showed it.

As I seed-planted my tomatoes, I pushed a stake into the wet earth near-by. Six weeks later I had healthy growth in the plants, but poor support from my stakes. By the end of the season, most had snapped in two from the pressure of the tomato-laden plants bending over. Others were pushed aside by the growing vines. It was pitiful and ugly.

Year two, I made six-foot long two-inch square stakes with points on one end. Rather than stake each tomato, I placed the sticks every 30 inches around the patch, and strung twine around and diagonally across, creating a web within which the tomato plants grew. This was my cheap version of  the wire contraptions catalogs sell as tomato cages.

It worked pretty darned well and I got a lot of full-sized and cherry tomatoes in 2010. But it wasn’t strong enough in all cases, and it just isn’t elegant.

Recently I saw a solution that appeals to me aesthetically and practically. Make a tripod using three six-foot long 2-inch square stakes. Make points on one end, line them up so the tops are even and drill a hole through all three about five inches from the top. Insert a length of wire (shirt-hanger wire is sufficient), twist it together. Spread the legs and push gently into the earth: there’s a tripod.

Position two tripods about six feet apart, and place a seven foot long pole or stick across their tops, working it into the space between two of the three tripod tops. The one I saw used a length of bamboo as the cross-piece.

From the cross-piece, drop twine toward each emerging tomato plant, and tie it to the stalk. As the plant grows, simply shorten the twine’s length to keep the vine supported and straight.

I like it. It’s a simple item that can be used to support cucumbers and zucchinis, too, keeping them clean and healthy, and making picking easier. (I drape lengths of deer netting down the front of a backward-leaning tripod for my cucumbers to climb. More on that in my post, “Making and Using Garden Tripods,” linked below.)

Climbers, like peas and beans, can be placed to grow up the tripod legs, for a more intensive use of the land, and the system is very easy to disassemble and move or store.


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