People sometimes look sideways at our tomato vines. We grow them up strings tied about 6 feet up from the ground, prune them down to a single fruiting vine, and they grow to be about 10-15 feet long by October. We fit around 20 plants in a 25 foot row. This practice was the result of reading Fell’s Vertical Gardening and watching a pruning tutorial on YouTube. (It’s linked in this post from a few years ago: “Tomato Fingers.”)
This year I’m trying to train more of our CSA folks to prune the plants. This is something I like to do myself both because I enjoy it and because it is somewhat exacting work. But I need to teach others what I’ve learned the past few years and I need to let go so I can get away from the farm from time to time! Pruning must be done at least once a week.
The hardest part for people to watch and understand is when I cut the suckers, some with stems 3/4 of an inch wide with flowers. They shouldn’t ever get this big but sometimes I miss one when they are young. I see the potential for fruit on those vines too, but I know from experience that it is easier for the plants to breathe, and for me to harvest their produce, when they are cut back.
People always ask whether the plants make as much fruit as they would if I let them grow out. I don’t have a scientific answer but have always assumed that since they are directing their growth in fewer directions the yield is concentrated to those areas and does better than spreading itself out. I still don’t have hard numbers to share- I’m a qualitative researcher afterall – but as the fruit sets this season, I do believe the proof is in these pictures. (top to bottom: Marbonne, Amish Paste, Sun Gold)
She is sixteen. She’s from Berlin, Germany and visited Columbus this spring for a few months. While she was here she attended a local high school a few days a week and volunteered at an elementary school. Her host families took her on a few road trips. And she hung around the farm, learning and lending a hand.
It was nice having Carla around. She followed directions and shared memories of her family’s balcony garden. I appreciated hearing her observations about the school she attended while she was here and about her own school back home. Her friends were also out and about visiting new places, meeting new people. I wish I could hear them share stories of their adventures when they get back.
I wonder how different teens in this country would be if they lived in another place for a few months before they left high school and home. Some alternative schools in our area have a walk-about term for seniors. While I haven’t heard of any yet who have worked on urban farms I am sure there have been some have. (If you know of any, I’d be curious to know…). And those kids might decide to pursue lives connected to the earth as a result of their experiences. They might be the future farmers of America, working to shape our food system.
Carla came to Over the Fence because one of her host mothers is a friend and member of our CSA. She doesn’t have plans to farm at this point or even join a community garden back home. But maybe, someday, in some small way, her time with us will have an impact on the choices she makes.