On dreaded tasks


Goldie tomato with two suckers:  do you see them?

It is the time of year when I think I would save myself a lot of time if I simply used tomato stem-colored towels in my house.  As it is, all human towels (as opposed to dog or car or beach towels) in the house are white, thus, my personal one has the distinction of having a rather unpleasant sage-green cast to it.

Tomato tasks (trimming, staking, tying) are one of the least enjoyed of my garden repertoire.  I’ve opined on this issue probably every year I have been blogging, but it remains the same:  I do not like the work of tomatoes.  Perhaps it’s only because of the green sap that covers my arms and person; you’d think I was fastidious in my habits but let me assure you I am not.  And I don’t need to trim, stake or tie my tomatoes to get a harvest out of them but I do, because doing so encourages a better (bigger, less sickly) harvest.  And I do like a bit of tidiness in the gardens.

Ah well.  I can solve my problem easily by using those sage-colored dog towels in the basement.  But what would I complain about then?

12 responses to “On dreaded tasks

  1. Could you school me a bit on how to best tackle the tomatoes? I admit to just letting them go into insane jungle mode every year, half out of laziness and half out of ignorance of how to properly deal with them without damage. 🙂

    • Hi Amanda: for some quick schooling check out this link. I vary from its instructions in two ways: one, the lower leaves eventually die on their own so I don’t rush that process, and two, once mine get to the tops of their stakes it’s off with their heads (the growing tip) to keep them from growing any further. Mostly, though, I just am fanatical about pruning the suckers. If you get them early, then the only ones you’ll need to get will be further up the plant, where you need to stake it anyway… My goal in any of this is bigger fruit, and less of it!

  2. I can see how green towels might not be appealing but I just LOVE the smell of tomato plants and any chance I have to fondle them and release the scent is a good time indeed.

    Have you thought about the overhead string type trellises like Mel Bartholemew uses? then you’d only have to knock off the odd sucker and twist the string around the tomato stem – it could conceivably reduce the amount of green you contribute to the towels.

    Contrarily, have you thought about having a change of color scheme and having the family only use green towels during tomato season?

  3. Are you hoping for some cheese?

  4. Your post cracked me up! My husband has a huge crop of tomatoes (8000 plants or so) and during tomato season he comes in with this all over green cast to his skin. I have two colored towels mine are green (intentionally so – to match the bathroom) and his are navy blue (doesn’t match at all but hides the green very well!). It makes me laugh how the sap clings to the blonde hair on his arms and legs and he looks green all over!

  5. I tried the ‘prune out all the suckers’ thing this year with my tomatoes. I definitely had a smaller harvest, in quantity, not quality. I think I like having more, even if they are smaller, tomatoes. My first plantings are about done for the summer. It’s just been too hot here. I’m planning on pruning off some of the new suckers and maybe even the tops, and rooting them to plant for a second harvest. I didn’t get near the tomatoes this year as I had last year. Oh well, that’s what learning is all about!

  6. You’d complain about hairy towels, that’s what 🙂

    Not one word about the way tomato vines smell?

    It’s funny how you can tell when certain plants are cut — monarda, elderberry, Russian sage, anise hyssop, and salvia all have distinctive odors, and tomatoes are that way too.

  7. I don’t prune, but I do stake and cage and generally restrain, but the tomato plants get stuff all over me and then I itch.

    It’s like a bad joke. Not only am I green, I’m allergically green.

    Your dedication to tidiness is impressive.

  8. El, I have a confession to make: I don’t know how to prune a tomato! I’ve never pruned or staked mine. I just surround the plants with big cages made out of concrete reinforcing wire and let them go. We get more tomatoes than we know what to do with. Do you think our plants would make more tomatoes if we learned how to prune them?

  9. I didn’t prune my tomatoes last year, but I did do some surgery when the branches began to turn brown at the end of the season…. at one point, the plants looked like they had been amputated on one side, it was so lopsided. But I had tomatoes into October, so I was willing to go with it – the taste seems to make up for the work I guess….
    Your note about the towels made me remember how hard it was to do the laundry a couple weeks ago – raspberries and strawberries were made into jam, frozen, baked, etc. all day and they made appearances in the oddest places on my clothes. Who knew stains could get in under the hem of my pants????

  10. Amanda, as you can see from the responses, you certainly don’t need to prune them! Let’s see how time-crunched and tired you are. If they’re caged they might be just fine.

    Tameson, hah! I…have come to not hate the scent of tomato plants! I used to just not like them. Now, I guess I am agnostic. I really just don’t like their sap. But yes, the Bartholomew method (and a few other of my gurus use it and love it, like Eliot Coleman and Shepherd Ogden) would require that I erect something that won’t fall over! A tall order in this clay soil. Nope. The stems off the fallen maple branch are adequate. But it might be time for a towel color change…for ME.

    Pamela, as an art major in college, I majored in whine and cheese!

    Heather, 8000 plants? Wow, even I don’t have such ambition!! And is your hubby tall? Sounds like the Jolly Green Giant coming in from the fields! But it seems you know this dilemma well, and have dealt with it…admittedly in a color-clashing manner 😉

    Jules, well, you know the vigor of tomato plants: those cuttings should root up quite nicely. In fact I saw a couple rooting quite nicely atop the compost heap where I threw them so I knew it was time to turn the pile! But yeah actually my aim WAS a smaller, better harvest, especially with the more persnickety tomatoes I grow: I figured a big root system and fewer fruits (and leaves) means that those fruit will be getting the nutrients they need. But you’re done with tomatoes? We had our first fried green one yesterday, that’s how behind we are up here!

    Firefly, as ever, the astute observation! In point of fact the only time our dryer gets turned on is to knock the hair off of things before they go to finish drying outside on the line. But you’re right; I’d need to get over some dog hair at first. Luckily Penny (a blue heeler) doesn’t shed much, our shepherd was a different story…But yes, tomato plants do have that distinctive stink!

    Stef, I have that reaction too, though not quite as bad: I have found that if I cover my arms with lotion before I do the dreaded deed, I have less itching and easier clean-up. This requires forethought however and I never truly know what I am going to do in the garden until I get there. But yeah, you don’t need to prune to get a harvest.

    Ed, we made those cages for the school’s plants, and our house came with six of them…which are used by the determinate tomatoes, frankly, because I don’t prune them. But yeah, you don’t need to know how! Like I said, the reason I do it is to give a leg up to the more sensitive amongst my plants, as I want a harvest of big tomatoes for the most part…not a harvest of a million tomatoes! So if you have more than you know what to do with, you might want to try pruning. Or not!

    MC, welcome to the world of food prep! I would say wearing an apron helps, but it doesn’t 😉 I just wear white t-shirts every day, as they, like those white towels, are easy to clean. And jeans, which usually cover all manner of funk. But yes, having tomatoes into October: I have found that trimming does give you long-lasting plants too…except at one point of the season I cry UNCLE and pull them all out!

  11. I’m at the Uncle point. Mine all had rust, like my neighbor’s down the street, so they look terrible. Not setting any new flowers or fruit, blowing over in strong winds, looking pitiful, something eating even the GREEN ones, not just the pink ones. It just got too hot here. I’m going to start over in a new bed with my cuttings, hoping for some more at a later date. We didn’t have nearly the fruit we had last year when I didn’t prune.

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