[tomato] None of us have "The Answer"

cvinson@mindspring.com (Tomato@GlobalGarden.com)
Tue, 22 Jun 1999 19:52:40 -0400

Reading all the different opinions (my own included) about whether or not to
prune tomato plants reminds me just how easy it is for any of us to
unwittingly totally confuse a new (or experienced!) gardener who is looking
to the list for The Answer.

There is no single answer, no single "right" way to grow tomatoes (or any
other plant). Any expert worth his or her salt will say, "I can give you
some general principles, but I can't tell you how to grow a tomato in YOUR
soil, YOUR climate, YOUR space limitations. I can only tell you what works
for me. Then you must filter that information through your own experience
and growing conditions and find YOUR 'right' way."

When I post that I will sometimes "top out" and/or prune an INDETERMINATE
variety of tomato plant (these are two distinct operations with very
different intents and effects),it's because experience has shown me that
both topping out and pruning/thinning is beneficial under my growing
conditions. North Georgia gets hot and humid in the summer; maintaining good
air circulation around tomato plants is crucial. Pruning (selectively
removing some of the new growth that develops in the axil of the vine)
increases air circulation. This type of pruning also helps keep the plant
from growing out of bounds. I normally plant my tomatoes on 2.5' to 3'
centers. This spacing demands some pruning to keep the plants from growing
into each other. A jungle is not what I'm looking for in terms of either
appearance or plant health!

I try and grow between 75-100 varieties of tomatoes each year...that means a
fair number of plants in a fairly restricted area. Plant health and
preventing disease is a HIGH priority with me, so the extra time it takes to
remove the nubbins of new growth when they make their first appearance in
the axils is well worth it....under *my* growing conditions.

Another example, sunburned tomatoes aren't an issue for me in Georgia.
Sunburn is an issue in my Texas garden. I don't normally train tomato plants
to a single leader but if I did, it would be a challenge to prevent sunburn
in the Texas garden. (Too, like many growers, I think flavor suffers if you
reduce the leaf mass too much due to the ways tomatoes ripen and develop
their flavor.) On the other hand, a grower I work with in New Hampshire
laughs at the very notion of sunburn. He grows his tomatoes on 18" centers
and trains them to a single leader without needing to worry about sunburn.
He also has grown many, many varieties of open pollinated and heirloom
tomatoes in containers successfully. Fact is, not everybody has the garden
space (and/or the sun or soil quality!) to grow tomatoes in the ground.
Container grown tomatoes make a lot of sense of many reasons, and they sure
beat no tomatoes!

The point? What works in Texas....Georgia....New Hampshire....etc., will
always vary. None of us on this list are growing tomatoes in their native
habitat of Central and South America. Over the years tomatoes have adapted
(and we have adapated them, as well) to the requirements of our particular
geographic areas and planting conditions. Some tomatoes do better in
different areas of the country: some can take temperature extremes; others
fizzle in tough environments. The gorgeous beefsteaks that thrive in New
Jersey most often make a poor show in South Texas or Florida. And so on and
so on. It's about active adaptation and individual answers.

This is a long post, and I apologize for running on at the mouth. I wrote
because I think it's important for each of us to remind ourselves that none
of us possess The Answers. Every garden and gardener offers a unique set of
conditions. What all of us can do is help each other notice and learn from
his or her own conditions. That's what makes gardening satisfying--an art
form instead of a production process.

Catharine/Atlanta, zone 7b