Tomatoes in SFG- should I prune to single-stem?

newbie468(7)April 5, 2014

Hello all,
As the name implies, I am brand new to gardening and have decided to start off using the square foot gardening method.

I have a question about indeterminate cherry tomatoes- my two 4x4 beds currently get 4 hours of full sun (11am-3pm) with dappled morning and afternoon shade. Since I have such limited space and full sun, I am wondering what would be the ideal spacing/number of tomato plants. I was thinking of doing 1 tomato per 12in. and pruning to a single stem. I know 4 hours of full sun may be pushing it, but it gets hot and humid in GA so I want to try. Any advise is appreciated! Thank you.

*Forgive the re-post. I am trying to get as much input as possible.*

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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Welcome !

I think the amount of sun situation down in 7B (GA) is ok. I have done Gardening in Alpharetta, GA in similar situation. Actually in the dog days of summer that is a plus. Tomatoes, in some people's opinion, are NOT FULL SUN plants. Plants (including tomatoes) need a certain amount of light (in lux, lumins ..) to do their photo synthesis. Beyond that they don't need more light. IOW, more light does mean better for tomatoes.

On the SF gardening: I think it is a good concept to use land efficiently when you do not have a lot of it. . So it doe NOT mean that you have to plants things in SF grids. When it comes to tomatoes, IMO, you will need a minimum space of 18" by 18" . Even then you have to do substantial pruning. Within that space I will keep 3 (main + 2 branches). Because the space is small , you will have to stake or trellis them. Cage might not fit.

BTW: I am practicing what I am preaching here: i.e, I am going to plant 8 (smaller, determinants) in a 3' by 6' raised bed. That is one in 2.25sf.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 11:52PM
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newbie468(7)

Seysonn, thank you so much for all of the helpful information! I think I will try just 3 tomatoes, giving them roughly 2+ square feet/each and 2-3 branches as you suggested. We will see! :)

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 12:55AM
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lgteacher(SCal)

One foot apart is a little close, especially with indeterminate cherry tomatoes, which grow very fast. I tried pruning mine at first, but after a while, I couldn't (or didn't) keep up with it.

Below is a photo of my tomatoes that lived through our mild winter. There is a 4 x 4 square foot garden underneath the foliage. The plants have spread out a few feet on either side on the box and the tallest are about 6 feet.

Here is a link that might be useful: Tomato plants

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 11:31AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

In case you didn't know, Sq. Foot Gardening has its own forum here so you may want to check it out for all the tips and techniques discussed there.

I used to practice much of it in some small beds I had but once I enlarged the beds I switched to a more normal gardening approach in them But personally I never found cherry varieties - most of them - working well as they are simply far too big plants.

Too many people think that because the fruit is small the plant will be too when in truth many cherry plants are 2-3x larger than even some of the biggest indeterminates. And pruning them to a single stem results in a 12' tall plant with very few tomatoes.

I'd suggest at LEAST a 3'x3' square for each and 4'x4' would be better as lgteacher mentioned. You'd still have to do some pruning but you'll get more of a semi-normal crop.

Better yet, grow the cherry tomatoes elsewhere and stick to determinate or dwarf varieties in the Sq Foot garden where they will do well in a 2'x2' square and require no pruning.

Dave

Here is a link that might be useful: Sq. Foot gardening

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 1:25PM
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newbie468(7)

Lgteacher and Dave,

Thank you both. I didn't want to do determinate varieties because most are hybridized, but you have made me think twice. I did find some determinate, heirloom seeds online but would I be too far behind trying to start some now? I could probably buy plants locally here soon, although I'd rather not.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 3:47PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

newbie - There are 100's of determinate open-pollinated/heirloom varieties (non-hybrids), far more than hybrids if heirlooms are what you want.

But yes, you would probably have to grow them from seed as the standard plant suppliers only grow the common high-demand varieties and most of those are indeterminates.

What heirloom cherry varieties did you find that you were going to grow?

Too late to start some now? Not at all. They would be ready to go into the garden by mid to late May easily.

Dave

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 4:44PM
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newbie468(7)

Dave,
I actually didn't find any heirloom, determinate cherries. One that I can recall is the Homestead. Do you know where I could find more heirloom determinates? Thanks for all of your help!

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 8:00PM
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lucillle

Just to mention that hybridization is not an evil plot (ha) to take over the world, it just means that there are different specific parents to get a specific offspring.

That's not to say that there are not big Agro companies that might love to take over the world, I'm sure there are, but the road to hell is not paved with hybrids.

Back to your regularly scheduled program.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 8:41PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Sure just go to Tatianas Tomatobase and click on the Determinates category. She includes some of the more popular hybrids in the list but 90% of them are heirlooms or open pollinated. Each variety tells you where seeds are for sale.

Or go to tomatofest.com and scan through their determinate open-pollinated selections. Gary sells many choices.

Dave

Clear Pink Early, Rutgers, Beaverlodge, Alaska, Grushovka, Ace, Early Annie, Moskovich, any of the Heinz or Campbell's varieties, are just a few that come to mind.

Here is a link that might be useful: TT - determinates

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 9:10PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I'd suggest at LEAST a 3'x3' square for each and 4'x4' would be better as lgteacher mentioned. You'd still have to do some pruning but you'll get more of a semi-normal crop. (Dave)
%%%%%%%%%
Hmmm
The guy has just 2 beds, each 4' by 4'. And you are suggesting that he should plant/grow just 2 tomato plants ? !?

As the size of tomato fruit is not directly co related to plant size, similarly the top growth of a tomato plant is not directly proportional to its root system and size. NO tomato plant' root can outgrow a 2' by 2' space with 1 1/2 ft depth. That is a volume of over 35 gallons of root space. That is more than any tomato plant needs for roots, provided the roots find what the need, in it.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 4:26AM
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lucillle

Seysonn,

Please cite your source for your information about the dimensions of tomato root systems. I did a search that brought up a study of tomato root dimensions that contradicts what you are saying and is more in line with what Dave mentioned.

Here is a link that might be useful: Tomato Root System

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 5:38AM
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lucillle

Even Mel Bartholomew himself, who writes about square foot gardening, recommends a **3x3** for bush varieties.
Note that he recommends severe pruning for indeterminates which will reduce productivity.

Here is a link that might be useful: Square foot tomatoes

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 6:06AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

NO tomato plant' root can outgrow a 2' by 2' space with 1 1/2 ft depth.

Since when?

Dave

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 11:09AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I was and am talking about the volume of root mass, A few roots might extend longer but the mass doe not get too big. This is more true when the plant get the nutrients where the original roots grwo and they won't find a need to grow roots all over. Call this "Laziness Factor".

Here is a typical double tomato root ball.
That tomato root , I DON"T THINK, needs more than 35 gallons of soil to grow in it. ( 2x2x1.5 ft)

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 12:40PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

We all pull up our tomatoes at the end of season. So there is no needs for some university study on this. BUT
Here is another typical tomato root ball (from Bonnis)

Do you think it needs more than 35 gallon root space in ground ?

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 12:53PM
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lucillle

Yes I do. If you pull the plant out, you cannot say whether a lot of the fine roots have been left in the soil so waving a yanked out plant around as proof of your claims is not very scientific because what you are waving may not be the full extent of the root system.

And could you cite where you found your claim that root masses are smaller when
'they get the nutrients where the original roots grow'. That does not sound right, I would think the plant would get larger and the roots would still expand.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 1:20PM
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gardener_mary(6 MA)

I've grown tomatoes 1 to a sq. ft., I grow them on 1/2" electrical conduit frame and train them up strings. I do prune mostly to one main stem, if one or 2 miss my attention and grow too large to remove I just add another string but I'm careful not to let more than a couple get by me. I mainly grow (indeterminate) cherry and small fruited varieties and have had great crops. I enjoy growing many varieties and don't have the space in my fenced gardens to give them 3 x 3 ft. each. IMO 3 plants allowed to spread out would not be as good (for me) as my 27 plants pruned to one stem that are planted in narrow (1 - 1 1/2 ft.) beds on the north side of my gardens, along fence with access from only one side.

I would suggest that you find a copy of the Original Square Foot Gardening Book (not The New SFG) and read the sections on training tomatoes to grow vertically, vertical structures and the trench method.

BTW, the first frame that I built over 20 years ago is just starting to rust a bit but still useable.

Good Gardening, Mary

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 8:03PM
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newbie468(7)

Dave, thanks for the link. I will check it out.

Mary, thank you for the information. Ironically I have the New SFG book and found it rather useless because I had read the same information online already. I am planning to do a 7ft cattle panel trellis on the north side of the bed and train the tomatoes up that. Also, I will be hardening my tomatoes on their sides so that I can trench them at planting. Does that sound right? Wish me luck!

Thank you all very much! I truly admire people that take the time to share their knowledge with others.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 8:36PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Good luck, Newbie.

This is a "FORUM" where different view are presented. In the end of day everybody does what she/he wants to do. We are not here to prove ourselves right and somebody else wrong. Growing plants/gardening is not like a pure science like algebra to solve an equation. I don't like to get into lengthy discussion here and be interrogated as if I am in a court of law to submit evidence.

Have a productive season.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 9:22PM
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MrClint

gardener_mary's one plant per foot approach worked well for me when I was trialing a number of different varieties to determine my own favorites. But now the trial winners get all the room they need in-ground and in EarthBoxes.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 10:36PM
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CaraRose

I think the 1 sf method works if you don't mind sacrificing production and want to grow more varieties than you'd have room for otherwise.

I grew four plants in a fairly small area (18" spacing) last year without pruning. I used a weave system to support them and had really good production.

I'm probably going to do 1-2 stem pruning and 1 sf for several kinds this year, mainly because I want to more varieties than I really have room for if I grow any other way.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 3:23PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I grew four plants in a fairly small area (18" spacing) last year without pruning. I used a weave system to support them and had really good production.

%%%%%%%%%%%
that is roughly what I do. ( 2.25 sqr-ft per plant). Then I do some pruning, depending on the agressiveness of the variety. For example : I plant 8 in a 3' by 6' raised bed( ie. = 2.25/plnt). The depth of soil is about 18" or more. So that is like 24 gallon of root space per plant. I THINK IT IS MORE THAN SUFFICIENT. All I have to do is to manage the foliage not to get a jungle out there.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 1:36AM
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bodiCA(9/N.CA)

Earthbox was mentioned, so may include ask, sub-irrigation systems min-max sizes? I lost so many plants of all types last year to voles, moles and gophers, it want to try sub-irrigation for my tomatoes this year. So far, finding thirty affordable containers is a challenge, so size does matter! Any suggestions? With the drought and mosquitos i am taking water issues very seriously! Also, any of you make compost tea for your tomatoes? Seysonn, isn't sub-irrigation in support of your root ball size, if the plant is getting the nutrients and moisture it requires, it's roots have no stimulation to search wider and deeper?

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 12:40PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Posted by bodica 9/N.CA (My Page) on
Sat, Apr 26, 14 at 12:40
...........................................
Seysonn, isn't sub-irrigation in support of your root ball size, if the plant is getting the nutrients and moisture it requires, it's roots have no stimulation to search wider and deeper?

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

Yes, that is what I said.
In nature thing pick the path of Least Resistance ( Easy route) . That is also true about plants. For, example, if they can get what they need (moisture and nutrients) in a shallow layer of soil, why bother to grow deep roots ?. We have heard that the experienced gardener will say : Water deep well and less often, instead of watering shallow and more often.
So if you keep a plant thirsty and hungry (relatively) it will grow more roots, deeper roots, expanded roots in order to compensate for what is lacking.

Where do the plants get raw material to grow fruits ? Soil ? NOT SO. Soil is just a medium where the moisture and nutrients are held/kept/stored. Dose the volume of soil matter? Yes it does, to some extent. Beyond certain amount soil volume will become useless. Obviously a 5 gal. soil volume is better than 1 gal. 10 gal. is better than 5 gal. But IS 20gal. BETTER THAN 10gal?. OR is 40gal better than 20gal. ? Probably not, according to the law of Diminishing Returns it will become a waste of the resources at some point. The same applies to in ground spacing. Actually wider spacing is mostly to accommodate top management and for the convenience of the gardener.

Back to topic:
So to me, the concept of SFG is fundamentally a good concept . That is why they have different land/bed space requirements for different plant types. Most peppers might do fine in ONE square foot, but some tomatoes will need about 3 times as much area (21" x 21" = 3 sqr-ft).

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 3:01AM
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bodiCA(9/N.CA)

How are everyone's tomatoes beginning the month of June? Mine are growing and making little tomatoes. I planted both closed containers and draining containers to see if they show a difference. I used lots of coarse coir for both and am watering the same amount, also feeding live aerated Tea with a measuring cup to be sure everything is the same. Some of my closed containers are clear so I'm watching the moisture through them, to respond to all the plants, of course, keeping an eye on all the exposed plant parts. Still can not decide to prune or not, thinking same ones I have two, will try pruning one Indigo Apple and not the other to compare. Hope all of you are enjoying the process as much as we are here!

    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 7:55PM
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sandshifter

In the past I have planted 1 tomato (better boys) one per each sq ft in a 4x4 sq ft raised bed next to a 4 x5 trelis. I then pruned each plant to one vine. I got less tomatos per plant but more tomatos per linear ft. It was a wall of solid tomatos...I got this method from the sq ft garden gook. I'm not smart enough to dream this stuff up
by myself.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2014 at 12:58PM
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