Over the Fence Urban Farm

Cooperatively farming small patches of Earth in Columbus, OH

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Tomatoes Growing Up One Vine

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)







Tomato Fingers


If you’ve ever grown tomatoes you know where this is going. You know that smell they leave on your fingers when you’re pruning and training them. It’s nothing I can describe in words. All I know is I’m happy to be smelling it again.

This year’s tomato plants are extra special since we grew them from seed. The fact that some are now standing over two feet tall in the ground is nothing less than amazing. And they are just starting to show their first signs of fruiting.

DSC_0150We’re mostly growing cherry tomatoes this year (see “What We’re Growing 2014” for a full list) to try to avoid some of the worst plagues of any backyard tomato grower – early blight, blossom end rot, splitting and cracking… These are all indeterminate varieties, which means they will, in theory, continue to grow and set fruit until they die from frost, so we’re training them up a line of twine.

This video explains the process pretty clearly. Hoping our CSA members will take a look to learn how to help care for the plants here as well as those they took home. Of course, if you have the space, you can just let them run wild. We’re going with this option to keep the plants from becoming a mess of vines. This should ensure good air circulation and an easier harvest.

Now get out there and get yourself some sweet smelling tomato fingers.