STRING TRAINING TOMATOES, BECAUSE I’M NEVER SATISFIED WITH ANYTHING. EVER.

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There has to be a better way.  There’s always a better way (unless it’s making french fries in which case McDonalds pretty much has a lock on that).  I say that little mantra with pretty much everything I do, see or live with.

My living room?  Not quite right yet.  My dining room?  Ditto?  Backyard, bedroom, garden, thighs, ditto, ditto, ditto.  So it should come as no shock to you, me or anyone in the general vicinity of planet Earth that I’m trying out a new way to stake my tomatoes.

I’ve done the Florida Weave for a few years now and it works well but it still results in a big MESS of tomato plants.  The kind of thing you’d expect to see starring in The Rocky Horror Picture show.

It’s not Espaliering my tomatoes. Although I am testing out that method this year too.

No, I’m going to string my tomatoes up.  With a string.  Up to the sky.  I’m sorry, I’m getting slightly distracted here because the muscle under my arm (we’re going to call it muscle) is actually moving while I type.  It’s swinging to and fro like a hammock. I’ve never had that happen before and I’m what you’d call, well, nauseous is I suppose the best way to describe it.  I’m hoping it’s just because I adjusted the height of my work chair.  If not, expect to read a blog post on the topic of arm tightening through self surgery up soon.

O.K. back to the tomatoes.

Stringing them is a method used in commercial greenhouses which I’ve seen before but for some reason haven’t looked into for myself.  I’m not sure why.  It could be that my dangling arm pocket actually contains the small portion of my brain that I would normally use for figuring out simple things like the fact that I should be stringing my tomatoes up.

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I don’t know this guy. This guy is just stringing up his tomatoes.  Never met him.  Good photo though.

Up at my community plot the other night I was talking to the other person up there that’s just about as nuts as I am when it comes to researching, testing and trying out new things.  Actually he’s much more advanced in his gardening nuttiness than I am.  Clearly.  Because he strings his tomatoes.  At least that’s what he’s trying out this year and therefore so am I.

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Stringing is literally allowing your tomatoes to climb up a single string.  Doing this, along with the pruning that goes along with the method results in SUPER neat and tidy rows of tomatoes.  Less foliage more fruit is the basic premise.

As you can see in my above photo, my tomato area looks a bit chaotic. That’s why I included that photo of the guy I don’t know and have never met.  He has a clearer picture of what the string method looks like.

For stringing your tomatoes you have one of two choices for pruning. The French Method which involves getting rid of allllllll other leaders and suckers other than your main tomato stem, and the Missouri Method, which involves something else that I’m not doing so I can’t be bothered to tell you about.  It’s basically leaving suckers and some leaders on your tomatoes and  pruning them back about half way.  Or something like that.  But who cares because we’re not doing it.

We’re doing the French Method you and I because it’s easier to keep track of and it’s French which means it’s better, cooler, more elegant and has more swagger than anything else in the world has to offer.

 

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The French Pruning Method.

No suckers, no extra leaders. Only one stem with leaves coming off of it.

Here we go!

How to use the string method with tomatoes.

 

  1.  Run a string, wire or board between 2, 8′ high stakes.

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2.   Tie a string so it hangs down towards your tomato plant.

 

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3.  Prune your tomato to one leader, removing all the suckers.

 

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4.  Twist the string around the base of the plant several times.

5.  Twirl the tomato plant around the string until it’s taut.

6. Continue to remove suckers and twirl once a week until the end of summer.

7. Remove lower leaves as the plant grows.

 

Need more details?  No problem.

To string train your tomatoes you have to run a string from about 8 feet above the tomato plant, very similar to the way you would string train green pole beans.

 

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You can get this string above your tomatoes by hammering 8′ stakes in the ground on either side of your tomatoes.  Then either run another stake across the top of those two stakes with strings hanging down, or run string across the top of the two stakes like I’ve done.

 

 

 

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I have a lot of stakes actually not just two because in past seasons I’ve used a stake for every tomato plant.  I used all of the stakes for the base for my string training.

You need a single string dropping down to every tomato plant.  As the tomato plant grows, you twist the string around the tomato plant stem so it grows straight up.

When you first wrap your string, wrap it around the base of the plant several times. This should be enough to secure it.  If not you can use floral tape, a knot or a plastic clamp to hold the string in place at the base of the tomato plant.

string-method-tomatoes

 

 

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(never take off more than 25% of the plant during your initial pruning or you’ll get leaf curl … I got leaf curl)

I TOOK THESE PHOTOS 2 WEEKS AGO.  WANNA SEE WHAT MY TOMATOES LOOK LIKE NOW?

I’LL BE POSTING PICTURES OF THEM ON INSTAGRAM TODAY.

By the way, this method is for indeterminate tomatoes.  The kind that can grow 9′ tall or more.  It isn’t for hybrid varieties which don’t get very tall.   As the summer progresses you remove all the leaves on the stem that fall below the first fruit set.  And you keep doing this on and on.

 

By the end of the summer you’ll have straight, tall tomatoes which get a lot of air movement and a lot of sun. They’ll be bald at the bottom and producing healthy tomatoes at the top.

Hypothetically of course.

Because this is gardening and all hell could break loose at any moment. A wild band of twirling goats or screaming aphids could come barreling through your garden destroying everything in its wake.  You just don’t know.

But I have high hopes for the string method for my tomatoes.  And my arms.

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56 Comments

  1. JulieD says:

    yay! I do my tomatoes that way too! If you tie a slip knot at the top you can loosen the string when you’re winding them, to make it easier, then tighten it right up after. Last year i still lost a lot of my tomatoes to blossom end rot though, due to a failed experiment. Works great when it’s done the right way though.

  2. Marna says:

    I will be following you to see how it works out. Well not that I would do it, just too much for me
    these days, but I am interested. My dad tried it all years ago, he had the best luck with concrete wire and making a large cage of it with 1x4s cut in half long way . I swear he had the best tomatoes, sweet and huge, even the ones that were suppose to be smaller. I think it was the chicken poop he added! LOL! Good luck!

  3. Gayle'' says:

    Julie, crushed egg shells can help reduce blossom end rot. I tried it one year and it worked pretty well. It’s all that calcium in the shells. Just scatter them around the base of the plants.

  4. Barbie says:

    TOTALLY doing this next year. Have cut my garden by 3/4 this year. To much to do and even that keeps me busy. Tomatoes are going crazy, but like you said all hell could break loose at any moment and tomato beetles are threatening to destroy everything! Drives me crazy and I’m discouraged.

  5. Kathleen says:

    Is leaf curl a bad thing? Never heard of it before… Google here I come! Again! I seem to do a whole lot of research after reading your posts. 🙂 filling up the gaps in my ‘useless but interesting’ memory banks!

  6. Alita says:

    I use this method for cordons too. I put the loose end of the string under the rootball when I plant it and, as the plant’s roots grow, the string is secured.

  7. Cred says:

    I did the string method this year, too. I don’t have near as many tomatoes but I had to build a bamboo A-frame with a horizontal pole spanning them (like a swing set) because I can’t seem to drive a stake deep enough before hitting a rock. I tie the string to the plant base and run to the top horizontal pole. Seems to be working quite well.

  8. Lynn says:

    I am also looking forward to your garden . This year we only planted a few zucchini , yellow and green beans. As we knew the yard was going to get revamped . In short we have built a new shed, a green house, redid the main raised garden beds , shrunk a deck and are in the process of screening in the carport. That all said I miss our garden an I am on pins an needles as I await news of yours .

    • Karen says:

      Because I took on TWO gardens this year (not including my front yard garden) they’re both a bit of a mess while I get things figured out. By next year it should be better. ~ karen!

  9. Bambi Mayer says:

    I don’t have a garden yet and don’t see one in the near future but loved the post. One question….will you please, please, please post a good tutorial on how to do the bat wing underarm self-surgery when you figure it out. I have the utmost confidence in you, so I know you will perfect the technique!

  10. Courtney says:

    Do you propagate your suckers into new plants ? I toss mine in an old maple syrup bottle in my kitchen window for a week then plant em out succession style.

    • Karen says:

      Nooooooo, lol. I don’t have any need or space for more tomatoes, lol. But I have propagated suckers of cherry tomatoes later in the year to grow on a windowsill indoors throughout the winter. Works great. 🙂 ~ karen!

  11. Rita says:

    This is the only way I’ve ever grown tomatoes. I didn’t even realise other ways existed. Maybe that’s just my Englishness (is that even a word?) showing….

    It can still get messy though. Believe me…. 😆

    • joanne says:

      Rita, this is what I’ve always done as well. I didn’t know there was a name for it, just knew that it kept the garden tidier (and that way, if the nasty tomato hornworm comes back, you can actually see where he is causing damage, and then hopefully find the gross green giant icky bug and smash it.

  12. Carswell says:

    When my ex and I first bought the house I now own we had a big veggie garden in the back. After doing a bunch of reading, looking at beautiful pictures of potagers and whatnot – and because I love just about any kind of garden structure and trellis – we built a support system like the one in the first pice and grew a truckload of tomatoes.

    That system works extremely well, keeps the tomatoes amazingly neat and accessible, ensures the ripening tomatoes get lots of sun and is, as an added bonus, inexpensive.

  13. Ann says:

    you made the comment that you can string tie indeterminates but not hybrids. But I think that you might have to replace hybrid with determinate, which is the lower growing, everything gets ripe at once kind of tomato. Hybrids can be either determinate or indeterminate.

    My tomatoes are looking wonderful right now. But the stink bugs keep bothering the fruit so we have to pick it the second there is any color at all to them and bring them in to finish ripening. So of course, right now I have no kitchen counter tops available to do anything with. But it is very very colorful!

    • Karen says:

      Yes that’s true. I always use hybrid and determinate interchangeably all the timeeven though they’re not the same, lol. In *most* but definitely not all cases hybrids are usually determinate. ~ karen!

  14. jainegayer says:

    I understand the french method has way more swagger but that guy in the blue jeans seems to have some swagger going on. Are you sure you don’t know him? What’s this blog about, stringing tomatoes? I need coffee.

  15. Mel says:

    The string tie method is how my Bulgarian grandfather grew tomatoes in his glasshouses, commercially- so with great success!

    As for the arm skin thing- here in Oz we call those bat wings, tuckshop arms, bingo wings or if you’ve seen the show Kath ‘n’ Kim ‘fadoobadahs’… 🙂 Mine are awesome when writing on the blackboard at school!!

  16. Victoria says:

    I do a version of this with my red and yellow jelly bean tomatoes. I’ve made frames by bending electrical conduit into 4 foot wide 8 foot tall trellises. 2 pieces of 10 foot conduit bent at the 2 foot mark, then join the short ends with a little joint brackets. Jam the long ends into the ground and string six pieces of string hanging down. Yes, I have to use a step ladder to set it up!
    I plant 2 plants under the trellis and prune them so I have 3 strong branches from each plant, training each up a string. Every year they grow up and over the trellis! It is sooo easy to find the tasty little jelly beans because the plant is flattened out.
    New string each year but the frames can be popped out and stored in the garage. Though my dad has been known to leave his up all winter and string up Christmas lights…

  17. Eileen says:

    Goats, screaming aphids…or you can discover the world’s cutest little bunny in your yard…and then discover that all your bean and okra seedlings are nothing but tiny stalks gasping their last. And it’s way too late to do this with my sorry looking lot of tomatoes this year. Which is probably why said bunny has left them alone? Yesterday I had an attack of “mean” and sprinkled cayenne all around the remaining seedlings. (and boy, do I feel guilty)

  18. Gail Blain Peterson says:

    I do the Florida weave method. In NW Kansas is it HOT and if we remove all the excessive foliage the tomatoes will scald, sunburn, etc — actually sometimes they do even with the excessive foliage. So messy looking tomato rows are my reality.

  19. Katie C. says:

    I’ve seen this method done on TV by huge nurseries, but I didn’t realize actual people did it!

    This is my first year with a vegetable garden and there’s just so much information! I want to try everything.

  20. Garth Wunsch says:

    I’ve also done this for years with tomatoes, cucumbers and pole beans. Works wonders and great space saver. My A-frame is made of Maple saplings that I salvage from the bush and reuse many years. Your friends installation is very neat and well built, but he will have a lot of work moving it next season… if he wants to help avoid disease by rotating his crop. I mulch heavily with straw and plant green onions and lettuce along the free understory area. Mulching is amazing – I can weed my 1200 square foot garden in under five minutes once a week.

  21. Darla says:

    This is how my blog reading goes…
    read blog, click on links to see if you are doing the florida weave (yes), see mention of canning tomato sauce, find tomato sauce recipe, print recipe….now I’m tired and I still need to can tomatoes.
    Anyway, I agree with Gail. It is just too hot here in Oklahoma to get rid of too much foliage, but I love the idea.
    Btw…once you get the arm waddle very few people can ever get rid of it.

  22. Erin says:

    Like Garth said, the bearded guy’s style of trellis works great for pole beans too. We had to learn the hard way that in our windy location, any trellis must be well anchored!
    This is my second year to use the French method on my hoop house tomatoes. Last year I didn’t keep up with removing the suckers and it was a mess. My goal this year is to be merciless with the pruning. Yes, I’ve got some curled leaves too.

  23. Mindy says:

    I have neighbors who have done this three years in a row and it’s awesome.

  24. Karen, you are toying with us.

    Really…do you think we wouldn’t know this is the guy with the beard you brought home from the antique market? You say you don’t know him…humph..I believe she doest protest too much.

    Enjoy, girlfriend!

    …..Stringing the tomatoes, of course. 😉

  25. Linda in Illinois says:

    I would love to do this method as well, however, I have no space for 8′ poles. and how did you get them in the ground omgosh !.

  26. Sheryl says:

    I’m glad you clarified that you don’t know the man in the photo. I could already hear the questions…
    I tried the French method last year to grow my tomato plants, after deciding I just didn’t want the tangled top-heavy mess of tomato where the tomatoes grow and hornworms are feasting and you can’t see them through the mess. I used stakes instead of string, those 8’ green plant stakes from big box, and used twin to tie the plant at about 1’ intervals. It was pretty easy, and it worked very well. Lots of airflow, good visibility, and a good crop of tomatoes. My only problem was squirrels stealing my tomatoes! After waiting patiently for tomatoes to ripen, I would look out my window and see squirrels enjoying the fruits of my labor.
    With the string method, is there any concern with the string getting too tight around the stem as the vine grows?

    • Jennifer Fraser says:

      You just weave the stem around the string as the plant grows every couple of days. I have never had circulation problem…neither have my tomato plants!

  27. UrbanFarmKid Marti says:

    Ya know, sometimes, you’re a bit of a tease. I looked for the “see my tomato plants now on instagram.” Notta.

    But somewhat more painful… it’s frigging JULY down here, Karen. My plants are already five and six feet tall.

    In general, though, GREAT project. Will definitely be interested next summer.
    What do you have for killing squirrels? I’m ready to borrow Hounds from Hell to get after them.

  28. Christina says:

    I can’t grow anything at all, but I’ve always wanted to try tomato trees like Disney World has. http://birdieguy.blogspot.com/2013/07/epcots-tomato-tree.html

  29. Dagmar says:

    Yummy, home grown tomatoes. The best summer dinner is sandwiches made with home grown tomatoes on bread and butter, or maybe mayo.

  30. Rachel San Diego says:

    I’ve seen the strung- up method used at one of our local semi-urban organic farms… That farm is always innovating new ways of growing things, and that’s what they do for tomatoes. And they are delicious right off the vine (u-pick Saturdays are awesome).

    Good luck with your tomatoes. And your arms. 🍅💪🏼

  31. Linda says:

    I think I’ll try the string method for next years garden. My potatoes did not do very well in the straw but the picture you took of the guy stringing up his tomatoes sure looked good!

    • Karen says:

      String method is working out GREAT so far. Like GREAT. I do not think I will get a single potato from my straw potatoes! No joke! It’s horrifying and I could cry! ~ karen

  32. Benjamin says:

    I know you said you didn’t, but I think you secretly know that guy in the photo and you’re not telling us yet. Your clandestine tales of make-believe are probably all at least half true. Ssshhh, it’ll be our secret. Wink.

  33. I have never heard of this method before. Its way to late for me to try it, my tomatoes are 6′ high and taking over the world, but its something to think about for next year. Pruning out all the suckers seems like such a time commitment!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Melissa! It wasn’t a big deal at all the take out the original sucker and then all I have to do is go around once a week and check to see if any more are growing for the stem. Because the plant is so sparse with just one main stem it’s incredibly easy to spot any of the suckers. Really is the neatest, easiest method EVER. ~ k!

  34. Connie says:

    That wobbly hammock under your arms? There’s an actual medical acronym for that. It’s known in professional circles as UADD. Under arm dingle dangle. So called by a flamboyant aerobics instructor. He had special arm motions to prevent the dreaded UADD and went on at great lengths about it. He was, as I said already, a professional aerobics instructor. Which means it’s a professional acronym.

  35. sera says:

    I’m so jealous of your tomatoes. Every year, even while pregnant and even when I had no kitchen, I’ve somehow managed to do almost nothing and grow crazy tons of giant tomatoes. This year, I scaled back and only bought two tomato plants. This year I have a toddler. This year I have two 1-foot tall tomato twigs with two sad cherry tomatoes on them. Almost no leaves. No, I didn’t water them enough. Did I put too much compost in the soil? I have no idea. Everything is dead. DEAD I tell you. Except for the weeds of fennel that grow wherever they damn well please and thank you. I don’t even know how to get the fennel out of the ground to cook with it! Ugh. Yesterday my husband admitted to me that we both failed at summer. Failed. Here is to a future of summers full of growing actual tomatoes and doing all the other things I was hoping I could do. But toddler. Sigh.

  36. Jennifer Fraser says:

    So I’m a bit behind in reading this and haven’t read all the comments yet but that’s how I roll! Jump in both feet worry about the details late…any how. I have been growing my tomatoes this way a years. I set up two A frames with 6′ grade stakes with a 4′ stake across the top. The string (important that it’s heavy or at least doubled-tomatoes are heavy!) then I do what I just learned is the French method of training the plants up the strings. Works great and tomatoes are easy to see (so are those nasty not so little horn worms if you get them-by the way the chickens love those horn worms!) I really enjoy reading your posts. Thank you!

  37. Joanna says:

    I’m ready to string my tomatoes….do you have a favourite type of string that u use?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Joanna! Well, I like to use regular twine because it’s easy to knot and grabs well but it does have a tendency to stretch a little bit. I don’t like using nylon/synthetic twine because even though technically it will last a lot longer than natural twine it’s slippery and harder to tie into tight knots. But either will work. ~ karen!

  38. Victoria says:

    How far spart do you plant your seedlings when using this method?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Victoria. Technically you can plant them as close to 1 foot apart using this method, but I already had my stakes set at 2′ apart. 🙂 ~ karen!

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