How to grow more tomatoes per plant

This is a guest post by Theresa B

Every year we get so many tomatoes from our garden that friends wonder what our secret is. There’s no secret but you must know a few essential methods to have tall, mostly fruit vines.

A couple of years ago we planted 12 small (pony pack size) tomato plants in a 4 x 8 foot grow box and ended up canning 119 pints after using all the fresh tomatoes that we wanted. When frost came we picked all the green ones and put them in a box to ripen in the garage.

The method:

Choose non-determinant plants (or start your own seeds). A non-determinate variety such as a beefsteak or better boy will continue to grow and produce until frost. This method does not work with determinate varieties.

If planting in grow boxes you can plant them only 1 ½ feet apart.

Place a sturdy 6- 7 foot stake next to the small plant.

Water and fertilize as needed. As the plant grows you will need to support it using twist ties to anchor it to the stake.

The most important step: As plant grows you want to have just the main vine with no off-vines. From this main vine will emerge leaf shoots and fruit shoots. These are good. Keep them.

Here’s the “secret”. After a leaf or fruit shoot has formed off the main vine, another vine will start to form at the base of the shoot between it and the main vine. It will look at first like little leaves. PINCH THIS OFF! That’s all there is to it. Eventually the vine will reach the top of the stake and beyond. It may sound labor intensive but it really isn’t. I find that if I go out about once a week it only takes about 5 minutes to “pinch”, depending how many plants you have. If your watering is consistent you will have bushels of tomatoes and a very neat looking garden. It’s very rewarding. Have fun!

Comments

  1. I’ve always had good luck with beefsteak tomatoes. At least where we live.

  2. Sound advice and it really works. Since I plant predominately heirloom varieties, I generally leave two stems and pinch the same off. I have had too many get broken off on only one stem and no matter what design tomato cage I used to support the heavy weight of the fruit, it still broke the stem. In this case I have a second stem bearing fruit that I can harvest. I wish there were someway I could figure out how to make one only blossom with four blossoms per week so the fruit weight would not be so heavy on the vine prior to harvesting the ripe ones. Here where I live, the plant taunts you with the green fruit getting ever larger and heavier until it finally decides to ripen. I tried bagging them one year in mesh bags but they just grew into the mesh with their weight. I thought about propping the stems up like we do with the cherry trees when they get so heavy with fruit but since I can’t bend down and work anymore that is a lost cause.

    • Buuurr in Ohio says:

      Have you tried copious amounts of tomato tape or painters tape? I find those work great.

      • I just heard from a Kentucky friend who says he used to have the same problem until he started mulching heavily and just letting the vines roam around with the tomatoes resting on the mulch. Very little insect damage or rot where they lay. If I have a garden next year I may try that method as I used to grow tomatoes that way and just accepted the loss of the damaged fruit.

    • farmergranny says:

      Harold, I, also, cannot bend down or get off the ground. However, I started using cinder blocks to build raised beds that are at least two blocks high. I sit on the blocks and can reach the produce and am able to get myself back up from a sitting position. My “beds” are three blocks wide and as long as I care to make them. With the three blocks wide, I’m able to reach into the center of the patch from either side. Last year was the first year I grew heirloom indeterminate and was astounded at the height and breadth of the plants… didn’t know that I was supposed to “pinch” the suckers off. Trying again this year.
      Have a happy day.

  3. The hanging bag works real well out here .

    • I was actually referring to supporting individual tomato fruits with a mesh sling rather than the hanging bag. Tried those one year and did not have much luck so went back to the in the ground garden a process which has given me a successful garden every time I have planted one in areas I lived where we could garden over the past fifty some years.

      • I hear ya , the soil out here isnt the greatest and takes a lot to make it farmable , but they do it with good results .

  4. Prudent says:

    I read this and went right out to my huge tomato patch …. one pot of roma and one pot of burgundies … knowing what to look for, I pinched the lil suckers right off. Last year was my first with tomatos and I had a ‘bush’ 4 feet high and strung out all over the place on stakes and twine. What a mess… of tomatos. I took some advice found in here for this year and and will ‘string’ the ‘momma’ vines up the stair rail on 1/4″ macromay twine … and pinch off the lil thangs you spoke of Theresa B. Thank You!

    Are the green ones I will have at the end of the ‘season’ …. save-able?

    • Papabear says:

      Prudent,
      re: little green tomatoes and the end of the season…. Ever try fried green tomatoes? Slice them, maybe throw in some onion and cook them a bit till they are not too soft and not too crisp.

  5. JeffintheWest says:

    Most useful article I’ve read on here in a while! Hope you win the contest.

    I remember my Mom doing just this when I was a kid — she was the daughter of a farmer (from Ohio) during the Great Depression and knew more about how to make things grow and make do than anyone I’ve ever known. One smart lady. We always had tons of tomatoes when I was growing up and this was in El Paso, Texas — not your typical agricultural paradise!

  6. sw't tater says:

    THANKS, many Thanks!.. I knew there was a “trick” and it involved pinching off part of the growth, but did not have the specifics!

  7. They are called “suckers”. I have been pinching suckers off of tomato plants since I was a child helping in my daddy’s garden. ;)

    This is the first year I have planted beefsteaks in a long time (not sure why) but my 2 beefsteaks are over 6 ft tall and at last count ( a few days ago) I had 53 tomatoes of varying sizes on just 2 plants!

    I also tried the hanging baskets last year and wasn’t pleased with the results. They had to be watered every single day and all the excess water leaked out the bottom and we didn’t get nearly as many tomatoes as I expected. This year I planted mine in huge tubs that salt licks for cows came in.

  8. To try and be more clear, you mean pinch off the leaf at the V where the main branch meets the stalk?

    I think I get it.

    Also, does anyone know if it’s a bad idea to let a pea plant climb a tomato plant?

    • yep, you got it clark! ;)

      What kind of pea plant are you talking about? English peas?

      • Took me too long to get back here.

        I never thought about pea varieties before. I always thought a pea was a pea.

        I have no idea what kind of pea it is. It’s the kind that climbs with a vine.

  9. Uncle Charlie says:

    Besides frying the small green tomatoes at the end of the season (which are delicious) you can also pickle them. Hmmm.

  10. Green pickled Tomatoes are a good way to keep those that must be saved from the frost.

    As for supporting tomatoes:
    I’m trying an idea I found in an old book (online) ‘Handy Farm Devices’. It is a rack rigged up for the tomatoes to lay in. I tried last year with some success, late start and not great tomato growth. So far, it is working great although I can see the vines will be filling the rack already.

    The rack was made from 2x4s and I ripped down some fence boards I got at Home Depot. I used treated but painting might work as well. I cut an 8′ 2×4 in half into 4′ sections. I ripped each of these in two so I had 4 four-foot pieces. 20″ from one end of each I drilled a 1/4″ hole for a 1/4″ carriage bolt as the hinge. I nailed five 1/2″ strips of the fence boards evenly spaced from the top of the long end . My strips were 5′ so I left 8″ on each end past the legs. If you offset the strips 1 1/2″ to one side you can put the two frames together so the ends are even .

    These form a V shaped cradle which you can hold open with wire between the legs or chain. The set over the plants and guide the tomatoes to grow into the frame.

    This design does have some end to end movement. I fixed that for the season with a string running from the top of one leg to the bottom of the leg at the other end on the same long side. If I build new frames, I plan on mortising in the strips to provide lateral stability.