Sunday, June 12, 2011

Suckering and Stringing Heirloom Tomatoes

Beautiful Sunday in the greenhouse!  I have promised one of my Evergreen Brickworks customers that I would blog and teach her how to sucker her tomatoes! She has been sharing pictures off her iPhone with me of her tomatoes at market and asking how to 'sucker them' Don't you just love iPhones?  This blog is for you! Once tomatoes root down and take hold, they grow like weeds! Suckering (pruning) is an important job that has to be done early and often to have 'controlled' plants and healthy, large fruit.   It's one of those jobs that you finally finish and then have to turn around and do it all over again.  If you have a large garden, leave one tomato plant alone and watch it all season!  The beast will lop over, suckers will make a huge pile of a vine mass, blossoms and eventually oodles of fruit, the stem will throw roots and it will keep going and going!  That is what we often do in the fields.  This works fine IF the weather is hot and dry as tomatoes do not like wet feet and are more susceptible to disease and problems if they can't 'dry'.  It saves a lot of space if you cage, string or stake your luscious gems. So lets start with a young heirloom:
This above pic is the before of an untouched young heirloom tomato.  I can see three suckers off the bat. Young suckers are baby tomato plants. (Be gentle and careful not to knock off the yellow flowers!  These blossoms are where your fruit comes from!) In most cases the suckers grow from the area in between the stem and leaves.  (I'll share other annoying 'sucker' scenarios in a minute)
This is a good example of a sucker.  You want to remove it. There is another at the top of the picture too..
Gently bend and snap them out....I KNOW it's scary to start ripping apart the tomato plant you are patiently growing, especially if you only have a few tomato plants but trust me, you'll learn and reap the benefits with gorgeous plants and beautiful fruit! So do it, bust the little buggers out of there! You'll be left with a handful of suckers you can just compost......
Suckers removed from the plant....
And the after picture!  A sucker-free heirloom tomato plant! At least once a week, check and remove the suckers.  Even where you've 'suckered' before they often times will 'grow back'.  It's a never ending job BUT once you have a trained eye will take mere seconds to tidy up your tomato plants!  Good luck and bring more pictures to market for me to see!  ;)
Now, not all tomatoes are created equal!  Not all 'suckers' are created equal.  Take the above photo.  There is a sucker growing from the tip of a set of blossoms!  Remove these as well.  I also find that if you grow 'striped german' or 'striped marvel', typically any of the yellow, marbled flesh ones they like to throw a set of blossoms in a V stem and throw two suckers at the same time! You must choose a 'leader' and remove the other stem/sucker. Have fun!  Tomatoes are forgiving.  Often time while stringing, my 'gentle' hand that is never trying to go too fast snaps the top right out of the tomato!!  It eventually throws another sucker and keeps going!