On tomato tasks

There are a few gardening tasks that I do not particularly enjoy. That’s life I suppose. I will say even my most awful gardening task is still miles ahead of other things one must do (teeth cleaning, say, or arguing with insurance companies) so I remain sanguine. Yesterday, I attacked the tomatoes.

Anyone else out there maniacal tomato-plant trimmers? I think I qualify. I reduce them to one, maybe two, main trunks and then cut off all other suckers. At the end this leaves me with a pile of greenery as large, or larger, than the stuff still planted in the garden. During the rest of the season I simply (or not so simply considering how much I dislike the task) tie up the rest of the branches as they grow. Cutting the things allows more light and air in around the plants, and encourages them to produce larger fruit. Whether this does this in reality is not something I have studied: I simply do this every year and have decent results.

Anyway, I have my eye on new recipes to try for the long tomato-less season ahead: I made plenty of delicious ketchup last year, and I recently turned one jar into the most amazing barbecue sauce by adding more garlic and some local sorghum molasses. Considering meat is back on the family table, and there are a lot of chickens in that freezer downstairs, I will in all likelihood be bottling a lot of barbecue sauce. I also did not make enough salsa last year, especially of the bean or corn variety, so more of that also needs to be made. And then the usual canned tomato things (paste, sauce, chopped, whole; glut sauce, juice) also need some time.

In other words, even though I hate tending to them, tomatoes are quite the staple around here and thus require my respect. Harrumph. Grudging respect.

16 responses to “On tomato tasks

  1. Homemade salsa – one of my family’s favorites! I like to keep my tomato plants trimmed of suckers, but I don’t think I’m as fanatical as you!

  2. I never thought to trim tomatoes like that; what an excellent idea. Thanks. I hope you don’t have a ton of chores today, since everyone should be a queen on her birthday. Have a fun day.

  3. Hi! I’ve heard mixed reviews of pruning tomatoes here in Oklahoma. Some swear by it but I think it really depends on the amount of sun they get. It gets so nasty hot and humid here that taking out too much green might cause sunscald and that is NO GOOD! So I’ve tried to settle somewhere in between with the Missouri Method. (http://www.taunton.com/finegardening/how-to/articles/pruning-tomatoes.aspx)
    I love reading your blog!

  4. I am confused. Never trimmed the tomatoes : ). So – what do you trim?

    Happy Birthday!!!!!

  5. I used to turn up my nose at homemade tomato juice. I thought, “Why waste these beautiful things on such a mundane product?”
    Then I made a couple of bottles of it last summer. Damn! Doin’ it again.

    H A P P Y B I R T H D A Y

  6. I never thought about trimming the tomatoes, and it seems like they could really use it! Maybe I can sacrifice one plant and see what happens. I’m a fanatic about feeding the branches up through the wire of the cages, so maybe I could transfer that fanaticism to something different. The part I hate is green hands. We finally got some green towels because we can’t seem to get our hands clean of the green.

  7. Ok, everyone sing along now…

    Happy Happy Birthday to El!
    Happy Birthday to El!
    Happy Birthday to El…
    Happy Birthday to you!!!

    Hope you have a wonderful day!


  8. I get so scared of my tomatoes by the end of the season that I avoid my garden.


    This reminds me that I need to get out and prune them. No mercy!

  9. Hah, Bobbi, yeah, here’s the thing: I trim them only once. Then I just tie them up and swear at them alot. But salsa is a good thing. We don’t normally have chips in the house so I didn’t make a lot last year. Silly me, as the kid likes it on bread (go figure).

    Pamela, thanks! It was a work day alas. I did take part of the afternoon off and did get into the garden. Then I made myself a pie, so it was a good day.

    Lewru, what a great article! I of course love it because it says there is method to my madness (always good). It also mentions topping off, which is something I do for both the tomatoes and the Brussels sprouts: you hack off the top of the plant to allow the fruit or sprouts to finish growing, about a month before frost. I can see how sunscald could be a problem in OK. Here, not so much. We can be very damp here though so getting them thin and tying them up is really important.

    WF, thanks! Look at that article Lewru mentioned. It goes through both suckers and main/side branches. Some people never trim. I plant my tomatoes pretty close to each other, so it’s kind of important that I get out the pruners.

    CC, thanks, m’dear! Yeah, my first juice experiment was something of an afterthought, too. But it sure goes down well in January, let me tell you. Oh and a home-grown Bloody Mary with home-grown brunch? Divine. Now, can I make vodka with my potatoes, that is the question.

    Jeri you hit the nail on the head as to why I hate touching the things. I think it’s because I can’t tie things up with gloves on that I dislike dealing with them so. But that article Lewru mentions does go into the reason they should be trimmed (it’s about wasting energy in the plant) so maybe you should consider it. Anyway, I cleaned up and set the rag/towel next to the basement sink then came down the next day and said to myself what in the WORLD happened to that towel. Oh yeah, tomato trimming happened.

    Thanks, Jules! It’s that great rare time of the year when cherries, strawberries, blueberries AND raspberries are ripe so I am being such a pig right now. Yum.

    Katie, exactly. No pain no gain. I know I will need to go out and do it once more: after a while of doing it you become tomato-blind. Eeks. Maybe if I planted less tomatoes…

  10. I haven’t trimmed tomato plants before and I’ve been very happy with their production. My gardening books says to do it but my grandmothers had never heard of the idea. They might look prettier trimmed but I don’t think it’s necessary to do so.

  11. Catching up here and glad to find folks passing ’round the Fine Gardening article. I was afraid to prune much until I read it several years ago but now that I’m cramming in as many different varieties as I can, the pruning is vital.

    Oh, and if you can make vodka from your potatoes I will have to reconsider growing my own again.

  12. Scott and Marcy: I think tomato-trimming is a very subjective thing. Obviously the buggers grow and produce whether you trim or not. I am with Marcy though: I have so many plants, and lots of different varieties, so I need to keep on top of them because I also tend to plant them fairly closely to one another.

    And Marcy: Yeah, I will let you know on the vodka thing šŸ˜‰ but I think I will stick to cordials and wine this year. (Only, that is.)

  13. Glad to read this! I have been staring at my monster tomatoes trying to figure out how to start pruning.

    Sidetrack: do you have a ketchup recipe? I want to make some this year.

  14. Good morning, Lauren. I use my sweet cherry tomatoes for our ketchup, mainly because I grow a lot of them and it’s easy to leave them on the stove for a long time to let them cook down. I cook them whole then put them through the food mill to get just the juice and pulp. Basically, ketchup is boiled infused vinegar added to stewed, spiced tomatoes, then cooked down to thicken. I will say my ketchup recipe varies with how much stuff I have on hand, but: the best recipe I have found comes from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I have turned to this book quite a bit because the recipes are kind of unusual, and tasty. Yesterday I made a cherry/blueberry preserve from this book and it was fabulous! But if you would like I can make a post about ketchup-making, when the time comes…

  15. I’m growing my first tomato plant this year and I don’t think I trimmed it enough! It’s awfully bushy. Can I still cut off some of the branches that have flowered, or is it too late?

  16. Hi Kristen. I think you can. Follow that link above to the link Lewru left to understand how the plants grow, and what a sucker is etc. I cut the ones with flowers, no problem. If there’s fruit though I do hesitate. But, as Scott has mentioned, you don’t *really* need to trim the plants. I do because mine get out of control quickly.

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