I’LL NEVER GROW TOMATOES ANY OTHER WAY THAN THIS.

 

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Dear Florida Weave, You suck.  Dear Tomato Cage, You suck.  Dear Weird Spiraly Wire thing, You super-suck.

Dear String Method, I love you with all of my heart.  You do not, nor will you ever suck. Sincerely, Everyone who has ever tried you.

Don’t know about the string method? You can read all about it in my first post on the string method and how to do it.

Before I go on and on and on and on and on and on about how if you grow tomatoes you shouldn’t bother with any other support system than the string method, let’s have a quick reminder of what an heirloom tomato looks like when left to its own devices by the month of August.

 

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So, yeah.  Impressive for sure.  Also space sucking, a little bit tangled and frightening to children, pets and any adult who doesn’t have some sort of martial arts training.

I remember sticking my head in this plant to pick a tomato and thinking … well here goes … this is why people buy life insurance … then hoping I’d be able to pop back out in the next 5 minutes before some sort of tomato vine strangulation occurred.

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The string method on the other hand … is a work of art.  And you get the same amount of tomatoes because the plant isn’t spending all its energy on creating miles and miles of stems and leaves sticking out every which way.

This is how a tomato plant approximately the same age looks in my yard this year.  LOOK AT IT!

The string method is just a matter of planting a tomato, pruning out all the suckers leaving only the one main stem, and wrapping that stem as it grows around a string.  In this case the string is attached to a screw at the top of my fence.  Here are all the details in case you missed it the first time around when I talked about it in the spring.

Once the vine reaches the top of the string you can either continue the string  horizontally or you can drop the whole plant down (you can see there are a couple of feet of bare stem at the bottom) by loosening the string, and letting it climb up again.

The reason the stem is bare at the bottom is because after your tomato has set fruit you remove all the leaves underneath that first fruit set. Once you pick that fruit, you remove all the leaves from below the next fruit set. And so on.  You eventually end up with a lot of bare stem.

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I tried the string method at my house on a whim to see how it would work against a fence but the main reason I tried it was for my community garden to save space and work.  In the spring when the seedlings were about 18″ high, I attached my string and started training them.

Now the tomatoes have made their way almost to the top of the string.

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And the plants and fruit are PERFECT.
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There was no disease at all because there’s so much air flowing between the plants to keep the leaves dry. Since you pinch off all the leaves below the fruit nothing is near the ground to get disease splashed up on it when it rains.

 

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It’s tomato Narnia. Actually, since I’m from the 80’s it’s tomato Nirvana.

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There’s exactly enough greenery to produce nice tomatoes but not so much that the fruit is shaded.  Every tomato gets plenty of light and air.

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Everything grows so perfectly and in order that it’s almost bizarre.

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All in a single row up the vine you have ripe tomatoes at the bottom with cluster after cluster above them in various stages of growing and ripening.

 

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And not a single plant looks as though it’s going to reach out and wrestle you to the ground.

Not all experiments in the garden turn out this well.  Not all experiments in the kitchen turn out well.  Or decorating, DIY, fix it, hairstyle or makeup experiments.

But for every contouring experiment that makes you look like a paint by number, or every marshmallow/potato/fish salad that makes you sick, there’s a string method.

So keep experimenting and learning and trying. It ain’t that hard.  Any of it.

94 Comments

  1. robert says:

    They look so good, and also a little bit dangerous. I think you just finally convinced me to grow something next year. Any particular ideas for eating them?

  2. Audrey Hunter says:

    “..It’s tomato Narnia. Actually, since I’m from the 80’s it’s tomato Nirvana…”

    Best. Line. Ever.

    Audrey 🙂

  3. Mindy says:

    Yeah. I mentioned a friend has done it for years and sung its praises. I saw it in action and oohed and ahhed over it. Apparently I’m too lazy to prune suckers. Maybe next year.

    • Karen says:

      If you get them right away before the plant turns into an alien, it’s easy. It didn’t take any time at all. And once you’ve got em you just have to check every couple of weeks to pinch them off. Since you only have one leader they’re easy to see. HEY! You also wouldn’t believe how great my rhubarb plants are still doing! Rhubarb cake and Rhubarbablob for all! ~ karen

      • Mindy says:

        I haven’t even used all of last year’s freezer rhubarb stash and I’m already adding more. My rhubarb cup runneth over. Two plants is too many. I have an awesome rhubarb bread recipe. I should spend a day baking for the freezer. I also saw a recipe the other day for roasting it with beets. Worth a shot anyway.

  4. Sherry in Alaska says:

    This I have to try! Looks like the best method ever. Thank you, Karen!

  5. Melissa says:

    I’m sold!! I’m SO doing the string method!! Thanks for doing all the hard work so we can reap the benefits!! You’re my Tomato Hero!?

  6. Barbie says:

    My tomato plants are monsters…I spent all evening tacking them up with twist ties to my cattle panel thingy I use each year….is it too late for me to try this now? I suppose you need to do it from the beginning right? I keep thinking that I wish I knew how to “prune” some of the leaves but am not sure how to do it. I will go back and read your first post on this…however, I WILL do this method next year for sure. 🙂

    • Julie says:

      Thank you for asking the same question I was just thinking! 🙂

    • Karen says:

      Hi Barbie! It’s too late for you to do this method yes, you’d send the plant into shock by taking off all those leaves and stems it has now. 🙂 But you can prune out 20% of the suckers now without doing damage if you want. ~ karen!

  7. Mark says:

    This sounds like a fantastic idea! Must try it next year.

  8. Looks good. Still winter here, but we’ll be planting tomatoes in a few weeks and I might just try this.

  9. We can be honest here, and ask what could easily be perceived as a very dumb question.

    I was born and bred in the city, but work and live in the suburbs. I am not good at planting anything; I buy everything from the local farm stand. However, I really want to try this string tomato thing next year. Many years of attempts have yielded 4 edible tomatoes in total. I always used the tomato cage and the sucker removal method.

    I read this post, and the original post twice (still like that guy from the antique place), and I have the nerve to ask … how do you tell which is a sucker that should be removed (I am referring to the tomato plant, not the guy).

    The leaves look like they could be suckers, and evidently they aren’t which now gives me a clue why my tomato plants were never successful.

    Oh, my!

    • Karen says:

      HI Susan. This post should help you. I show you in it where the suckers are. 🙂 If you get them early they’re easy to identify. It’s when they turn into wild man eating plants that they’re hard to get a handle on. https://www.theartofdoingstuff.com/give-your-tomatoes-a-weave-pruning-and-supporting-tomatoes/ Basically tomatoes have one main stem. And off of that stem, many other stems can grow if you let them. Each new stem will grow from between the main stem of the tomato and a leaf. It comes out at a 45 degree angle. To do the string method you can have as many as 3 stems growing. So the one main stem and 2 suckers you allow to turn into stems. I chose to go with just one leader and that’s it. ~ karen!

      • Oh, that was a very good link, Karen!! The drawn pictures and arrows were perfect. I saved that link for next year.

        Basically, if you have two stems together (both coming out the side of the main stem), the top one is always a removable sucker, and the one directly beneath it is a leaf which will produce tomatoes.

        Excellent! Thank you so much!

    • Miriam Mc Nally says:

      I have the same question! So thanks for asking it!
      Also, Karen, what does this mean in your post: “after your tomato has set fruit”, i.e. is that when fruit appears on the plant?
      Sorry if these are dumb questions, I’m a newbie at this whole growing your own food thingy.

      • Karen says:

        Hi Miriam! Yes, once the actual tomatoes have started to form. So after the flowers have bloomed, pollinated, and little, tiny tomatoes have started to form. ~ karen!

    • Shannon says:

      I’m with you: even after reading the earlier post about this, I feel confused. Or maybe dumb. If you take off all the suckers, you only have one stem that is growing tomatoes? How does this yield any significant number of tomatoes? For some reason, in the pictures (earlier post) I can’t tell the difference between what you are calling a sucker and what you are NOT supposed to cut off (the leaf), so I feel if I did it I would have a tomato plant that is a long stick with a few leaves and a couple tomatoes at the top. I feel I’m missing something (that is probably really obvious).

      • Erin says:

        The actual fruit usually grow off their own stalk which grows off the main stem. The suckers produce a lot of greenery, but have to grow significantly before they produce flowers/fruit. Energy to grow the sucker is diverted from the growth (and ripening) of the tomatoes on the main stem. Many commercial producers use this method of training and pruning -so you know it’s productive. Happy gardening! 🙂

  10. Paula says:

    String method rocks! This year, I experimented with SIP’s, too which worked really well. We went away for 4 weeks so the plants were a bit of a challenge upon my return but I cleared out the debris and trimmed off the brown bits and it was off to the races again.

  11. Ardith says:

    Brilliant! Will do. Thank you. Cheers, Ardith

  12. Therese says:

    I’ll definitely try this method this year. Your post is perfectly timed for spring in Melbourne – thanks! Looking forward to not having to machete my way through the back yard jungle this year, and maybe I can even avoid my garden nemesis. Powdery Mildew.

  13. Gayle'' says:

    Sounds like your tomatoes are indeterminate. Do you know if this method works with determinate tomatoes? I love Roma tomatoes, and I am not sure if there is an indeterminate variety. Thanks! I have a very small garden, so I usually plant bush varieties to avoid the sprawl.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Gayle! Romas are determinate plants so you don’t need to do this. Basically this method is meant for indeterminate plants that have no end to how large they grow. ~ karen!

  14. terry says:

    Sharing with friends who have community plots – this is brilliant am doing this next year! thx

  15. Amber says:

    I will have to try this next year. We just had to put down our lovely Cherokee Purple tomato plant after repeated attempts to hurl itself, pot and all, off the balcony. Pruning could only help so much, and the cage didn’t help at all, so we decided it was time to let it go. These heirlooms just are a little bit more wild and crazy than say Early Girl or Sweet 100. Hopefully string training will provide the guidance and support needed.

  16. Dana Sandoval says:

    I’m confused about the dropping the plant down part. The stem won’t break? Can we see pictures?

    • Karen says:

      Hey Dana. I haven’t done it with the tomato on my fence yet but when/if I do I’ll post a picture. The stem won’t break if you’re careful. ~ karen!

  17. Julia says:

    I love this! I have struggled with all methods also. In fact my cherry tomatoes chose to climb a brick wall and surprised the heck out of me. Will definitely use this method from now on. Thanks a bunch. xxx

  18. Marna says:

    Wow it really works! I guess I will have to try it, tried everything else. I gave up trying to train my husband how to pick the suckers, he just plants and walks away, I have to do the rest. I like this idea. Thanks.

  19. Jenny W says:

    Karen, have you ever heard of Candy Tomatoes? They are the size of plump little Blueberries and grow in clusters like little grapes! My sister found some plants at a local grocery store this spring, and they are ripening now into tiny bursts of tomato goodness 🙂

  20. whitequeen96 says:

    OK, maybe I’ll have to try growing tomatoes again. The birds pecked holes in mine back when I tried the first time. Does this method discourage that? I mean, will birds only go after the ripe ones (which are all together at the bottom and could be protected by some kind of netting), or will they go after the green ones near the top too? I’m too lazy to net the whole plant!

    • Karen says:

      Birds will go after anything in this type of drought. Green, red, yellow, it doesn’t matter. They aren’t looking for food, they’re looking for something to drink, so if you put out a bird bath that’ll help. But completely covering any vegetable plant you want to protect from pests is always the best way to go. ~ karen!

  21. Carrie says:

    How the heck did you get all those stakes in the ground? Stilts? Operating a post hole digger while on a scaffold?
    I have the garden space and gumption to try the string method, but I need some direction on garden prep / stake engineering.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Carrie! My soil is fairly friable, so I inserted the posts after digging and raking the garden in the spring. I literally just pounded them in with a mallet while standing on a ladder. ~ karen!

  22. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    This is beautiful..not kidding…

  23. peggy hudson says:

    dear Karen, I am determined to master this technique before I die. I am already old so next year I am going to camp out next to my plants and when those little suckers appear every five minutes I will be there to get them. We saw this method being used in a Detroit urban garden project where they have lots of volunteers, so maybe everyone took a shift called “sucker and pruning detail”. We had bookoos of rain lately and there is no going near the tomato jungle and actually not many tomatoes either. We like the sweet baby girls but they have turned into the mean baby girls. Thanks for all you do.

  24. Kelly says:

    We took your advice using the string method in one garden.
    I have another garden that I used the cages.
    The string garden is by far the better way to go !
    My plants are at least 5 feet tall and are still growing ….
    and they produced very nicely !

  25. Carswell says:

    I’ve grown tomatoes with the string method. It’s the only way to go IMHO. It’s the best way to get a bumper crop.

  26. JosephineTomato says:

    I am still confused about the bottom of the string – is it not secured to anything except the bottom of the tomato stem or did you secure it to the ground somehow? Definitely need a new method for next year and like this possibility.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Josephine. 🙂 Some people clip the string to the bottom of the tomato, some people tie it. I did neither. I just wrapped it a few times around the bottom of the stem. The tension from the string keeps it in place. ~ karen!

  27. Su says:

    Tried this method this year in pots cause I have $&@” muskrat that took my plants in the ground last year. This rocks!

  28. Elaine says:

    This is fascinating – I now live in a condo but am starting to wish I had a garden again!!

  29. Phylicia M says:

    I do this on my pre existing 3-wire horse fencing. I have 3 cherry tomato plants and They are so neat and orderly and explode with fruit!

  30. Agnes says:

    I understood that the leaves immediately below fruit are needed to feed the fruit. This makes sense to me – the leaves send nourishment upwards as long as they are growing well. So yes prune the leaves below the fruit but except for the last one. Reference at the end of this article https://bonnieplants.com/library/how-to-prune-tomatoes/
    Also here – one of my favourite gardening sources, and it’s from right here in Ontario.
    http://www.gardenmyths.com/growing-tomatoes-removing-bottom-leaves/
    There’s an experiment for next year – try some each way and see which is most successful.
    Of course there are as many methods for growing tomatoes as there are gardeners! Thanks for this, I will definitely try strings next year.

    • Karen says:

      HI Agnes! Yes, the article actually says that greenhouses do remove the lower leaves. 🙂 The main reason I remove the lower leaves is for better light for the plant, to keep things tidy and to prevent early blight which is rampant at our community garden. No need for me to do a test next year … my test is complete! This is what I’ll be doing from now on. 🙂 Just one walk around my garden and I can see that people who have left their lower leaves on have tomato plants that are almost dead from blight. 🙁 ~ karen!

      • Agnes says:

        Ooops, I guess I didn’t say clearly that I agree ! Absolutely yes, do remove almost all leaves below the fruit – only except the one leaf immediately below.

        • UrbanFarmKidMarti says:

          Yeah, I don’t need you to do a test next year. I need you to do a “step-by-step” for me and my friends. Early. We need help.

  31. Kari Aud says:

    Do you prefer the string method over the Florida weave?

  32. brenda says:

    ok – I am bookmarking this page with all the helpful links – my wild and crazy tomatoes are an out-of-control comedy of errors just waiting for an accident to happen (I almost put a stake through my own heart halfway through the season when one fell over and I tried to refix it)

  33. Jess says:

    What’s the word on potted tomatoes? I have a patio that backs to a large wall that reflects lots of heat, and I’ve been thinking of putting some large pots with a tomato plant in each (next year). Will potted tomatoes need a string?

    • Karen says:

      It doesn’t matter so much if they’re potted or not. What matters is if they’re determinate or indeterminate. Both will do great in pots against a wall but the indeterminate tomatoes (ones that grow until the frost kills them) are the ones that need the string method because they get so tall. ~ karen!

  34. Leslie says:

    Thanks so much for testing all those different methods. Will have to try this one next year!

  35. Meg says:

    My plants totally look like your first photos and I admit I definitely backed away slowly the other day…. I didn’t know what kind of crazy would happen if I tried to fix the mess now. But they did grow so well this summer. I will certainly be doing this string method next year, if I got lots this year I can’t imagine what next year will produce!!!

  36. Shanelle says:

    I was at a huge tomato greenhouse in the UK last week and they use the string method too! Across all 18 hectares! 🙂

  37. gloria says:

    How deep do you need to pound the stakes into the ground to make them stable enough to support the tight horizontal string? I’m thinking if it’s not really deep, the pull on it from the vertical strings and the plants could cause the stakes to lean toward the plants. Can you tell I always try to envision what can go wrong? I hate being blind-sided by problems. Also I don’t have room in my little space to set up a ladder for pounded the stakes. Any ideas?

  38. Agnes says:

    Once saw a poor plant where someone had misunderstood about removing only the leaves below the fruit – the people had removed every single leaf on the plant and cut of the leaders. It didn’t grow much – of anything!

    • Karen says:

      Well,no, it wouldn’t, lol. Oh well. That’s how you learn! I’ve done plenty of stupid gardening things over the years all in the name of experimentation. 🙂 ~ karen!

  39. Audrey says:

    Dear Karen, I recently had a garage sale. To no great surprise the four sets of ancient cross country skis and poles did not sell. I stared at them for a long time trying to decide what to do with them as I hate to throw anything away that might be repurposed. Then in a flash it came to me. I will use them next year in my garden to tame my heirloom tomato jungle using the string method that Karen teaches! So I took the bindings off and stowed them in my garden shed ready for next year. Who says you can’t use cross country skis in Manitoba in the summer. Oh all the poles will be dandy garden stakes for my flower bed.

  40. UrbanFarmKidMarti says:

    Seriously, I am putting all my tomato plants in the stairwell next summer. The stairwell, with someone controlled “squirrel access.” With all tomatoes reachable by going to the walk about the stairwell or walking up the stairs. I want my tomato plants to look like yours next summer!

  41. Renee says:

    I will try this too next year. We had great weather for maters -and now I have what looks like the Little Shop of Horrors in my back garden. I thought I heard a “feed me!” out there this morning! but I did get a ton of tomatoes. I planted San Marzanos from seed, and they rocked!

  42. Dan Stoudt says:

    My Amish neighbor raises tomatoes in his hoop houses. Each plant, spaced 1 foot apart in rows, has a string to climb. The strings are tied at the top to the inner framework. The vines are attached to the strings using clips. http://www.duboisag.com/en/tomato-clips.html If you have several hundred vines the clips save a great deal of time.

  43. Lisa says:

    Absolute GENIUS! You’ve given me the strength to give it one more go!

  44. Nicole says:

    I definitely need to do this! One problem, though – I kinda suck at pruning ANYTHING. Thankfully, however, I have a solution!

    Karen . . . please come to Oregon next spring and we’ll put you up on our “urban farm” for a few days and you can show me how to prune the tomatoes to the string. Whaddaya think? 🙂

    You’ll want to be careful, though, or you’ll go home with a goat or two given that chickens are the gateway drug to goats.

    Nicole

  45. Patti H says:

    I have got to try this next year. My grape tomato plant is out of control.
    Please send a reminder next May or June. Or I will forget all about it.

    Thanks!

  46. Benjamin says:

    Show off !!! Just kidding babe. You always have great ideas and instructions. I envy you having such a fantastic community plot to grow. I have been trying for years to get approval from my HOA to have a community garden for us residents. (Any ideas how to make that happen?) You’re my super-hero of doing all things splendidly. Keep showing off…

  47. Julie says:

    We didn’t do this but I certainly pruned off a ton of leaves on the cherry tomatoes. And nothing bad happened…actually lots of good happened. I’m going to try this next year if I can. If you’re ever at the Royal Winter Fair (if they have this particular exhibit again) they showed a hydroponic string thing and it was amazing!

  48. Donna Fenton says:

    I’m going to try this method for my heirlooms– so many branches and leaves this year, and they often outgrow their 6ish foot stake. Also mine were too close this year–WHAT WAS THE SPACING YOU USED BETWEEN PLANTS IN THE COMMUNITY GARDEN?

    Just recently found your blog and love it. Thanks for all your fun and well researched solutions!

  49. Shann says:

    How tall is not the main concern; how many tomatoes and pounds per plant?

  50. Manette Gutterman says:

    If they’re getting so much sun how do you prevent sunspot? I have this problem when they get too much light. Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Manette! I’m not sure what you mean by sunspot. 🙂 Do you mean sun scorch on the leaves, where they get spots on them? That only happens to seedlings when they haven’t been properly hardened off. Something similar looking can also happen if you remove too many leaves all at once when thinning them. It shocks the plant and basically makes it unhealthy and unable to heal itself. Also if large leaves are removed that were previously shading newer, young leaves the loss of shade can cause the newer leaves to burn. So, this is a really long way of saying that chances are it isn’t too much sun that’s causing the sun scorch, it’s probably one of the reasons I’ve stated, lol. ~ karen!

  51. Angela says:

    I have read both posts about this and plan to try it. However, I also grow cherry tomatoes and they seem to get crazy than my larger versions. Does this method work on them as well?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Angela! Yes it does work with cherry tomatoes. I know they DO go crazy don’t they? I also espaliered a lot of cherry tomato plants last year and it worked great. You just have to be vigilant about taking out suckers and keeping only 1-2 leaders in both techniques. ~ karen!

      • Angela says:

        How on earth did you do the espaliered with cherries? I mean I know the definition is to train it to go flat, but how?

  52. UrbanFarmerMarti says:

    Alrighty then. I said I would try it this year and here we are. I only purchased one indeterminate tomato this year. It’s a cherry tomato. I figure I can pick the little buggers, even at 8-9 feet out. All my plants are in my stairwell this year, so I put the cherry-T at the bottom of the stairs to give it max headroom.
    Since I remembered a bit late, it has will have two leads, but that’s ok. Cherry-ts are scrawny plants and tiny fruit. There was a third, so I cut off the smallest and trained the other two.
    Very excited, Karen!

  53. UrbanFarmerMarti says:

    You know, when I don’t have a photo, I invariably hit the “Choose file” button.
    When I do have a photo, and intend to add it, I hit the “post comment” by mistake.
    Ugh. Make it stop! Here’s the pic.

    • Karen says:

      I can’t quite tell how big that pot is but I have a hunch it should be bigger. Bigger the pot, the more compost/nutrients it can hold the better the plant will grow. If you can’t fit a bigger pot make sure to add compost to the top of the soil every 2 weeks or something. Even Miracle Grow is great. (yeah, I know everyone boooos Miracle Grow, but it’s a great product) Keep me updated on the progress!! ~ karen

      • UrbanFarmerMarti says:

        Those pots (three of them–but the other two are determinate) are 16 inches across, which is one inch bigger than last year’s tomato plant got. It grew like nuts. I just went out and checked. Rainstorm overnight. No leaf curl. The stem where I cut off about 30% of the plant/leaves is high and dry.

        I do see that I need to move one of those upper tie-offs about a foot to the right, to provide enough room for all the amazing cherry tomatoes that I’m going to get.

        I’m having more fun with this already. And I’m really looking forward to the plants not occupying the ENTIRE stairwell and attacking visitors.

  54. pierre tostevin says:

    I live in Guernsey in the Channel Islands which are situated in the English Channel.
    Famous for its tomatoes, Island growers have tied their tomatoes with string for well in excess of a century. This enabled the growers to grow tomatoes up to 23 feet long of more recent years, easily producing crops of 20+ pounds per plant. I myself grew many thousands of plants this way.

  55. Liz says:

    In a different tomato post, you mentioned the leaves give the tomatoes there sweetness. Did this method seem to cut down on the sweetness level of your string tomatoes with the much less leafing?

  56. Liz Ornelas says:

    Love this great info. In a different tomato post, you mentioned the leaves of the tomato plant give the tomatoes their sweetness. Did you notice a lessening in the sweetness level of this string method that has much less leafing?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Liz! Excellent question! It isn’t a problem because the plant isn’t trying to make as many tomatoes. So the number of leaves to the # of tomatoes is still generally the same, therefore the sweetness is the same. 🙂 ~ karen!

  57. KingEldo says:

    Dear Tomato-eaters;
    I too have done the string method and got good harvests. One year I brought two potted mature tomato plants from my outdoor sunroom to my south facing bedroom window. I used string and bamboo poles making a large tresle. To my surprise one continued growing for 2 seasons! It even produced a siamese tomato. See photo…..

  58. KingEldo says:

    Sorry I can’t seen to upload the siamese photo but it is on Pinterest mutant vegetation. I saved the seeds but the new plants produced normal offspring!

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