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Member discussion regarding the methods, varieties and merits of growing tomatoes.

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Old January 1, 2010   #1
Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: California Central Valley
Posts: 2,518
Default squeezing more tomatoes into less space

I have a fixed plot size (community garden) with room for about a dozen varieties in the less shady areas, but I've been finding ways to plant more each year, partly by adding containers around the edges and partly by planting them closer together, or planting less of other crops. I get at least 5-6 hours of direct sun in the area where I usually plant tomatoes. I have also planted tomatoes in the shadier area, with a big drop in production. The local "master gardeners" have recommended planting 2 plants per hole to get more variety, but the same production per hole. I haven't done that, but I have planted only 18-24 inches apart, which is more root room than they get in a 5-gallon container.

In 2008 (a very cool summer) the yield was about 68 pounds from about 17 varieties (half that from 6 plants). In 2009, 118 pounds from about 39 varieties (with 75 pounds from 10 varieties). The most per plant was about 16 pounds. Two of the ones that did the best in 2008 didn't produce much in 2009.

We get no rain from about May to September, and I found the ones that got watered most (because they were next to crops that needed more water) produced much more, so I'm going to do more creative interplanting and water the tomatoes more next year. Oh, and maybe I'll start fertilizing a little more. So far I've used homemade compost with occasional comfrey tea, and in the containers this year I added some alfalfa pellets.

I had Marianna's Peace planted next to celery and parsley that got watered regularly, and Fox Cherry, Dagma's Perfection, Caspian Pink, and Kosovo near a bolivian sunroot that got a lot of water. Other tomatoes were near strawberries, lemongrass, penstemon, alstroemeria, artichokes, lovage, and raspberries. The ones planted where kale, broccoli, peas, nettles, or potatoes were growing, or had been growing the previous season, did not do as well.

Every year I start out wanting to choose 15 or so, and end up with a lot more. Looking at my 2009 list, a couple of my afterthoughts had good yields and good flavor.

What have you tried to grow a larger variety in a fixed amount of space, and what were your results?
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Old January 1, 2010   #2
mensplace's Avatar
Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: USA
Posts: 1,013

Wonder if anyone ever tried a stepped approach of developing staggered tiers of rows of containers rather like a step ladder approach with the containers arranged along each tier...a virtual hanging gardens of tomatoes.
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Old January 1, 2010   #3
Join Date: May 2009
Location: Canada
Posts: 75

Habitat Gardener,
I experimented planting 2 plants/hole. I did not take weight measurements, but it not appear that there was a significant increase in production, versus 1 plant in its own hole. Plants in a shared hole were generally somewhat smaller & less productive on an individual basis than an adjacent plant in its own hole. I plant a number of each variety and was able to do a few comparisons, from a production perspective I would not use this method again, but if I were tight on space and wanted to try more varieties I certainly would, as the plants did not appear to suffer too terribly from the cramp quarters of a shared hole. I don't grow for production, however, rather for variety.

On the spacing, I have good spacing between varieties, but for any given variety I have 3 or so plants clustered quite closely, probably 18" or maybe less. Similar plants with more spacing or in large pots do get larger and produce more, but again I am less concerned with production than in trying to trial a number of varieties.

I plant just about everything between my tomato plants, peppers, basils, cilantro, parsley, lettuce, radish, etceteras, choosing spots based on light requirements. I find cool season crops shaded by a cluster of tomatoes actually extends the season / results in slower bolting as the tomatoes are large enough to provide some shade as the weather heats up. I have had mixed results with Peppers & Basils, which occasionally get swallowed up by a sprawling cluster of tomatoes pushing beyond their cages :-)

So I squeeze in a lot, production I am sure suffers on a per plant basis, but the plants themselves seem to do fine. I should note I have really good deeply dug and raised beds, as well as well drained site with a good cross wind and sun. So I am not particularly fearful of disease / lack of air flow, or a lack of nutrients. kd
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Old January 2, 2010   #4
salix's Avatar
Join Date: Dec 2007
Location: north central B.C.
Posts: 2,309

kd3 - sounds like you garden the same way I do! Always tucking in bits of things between others - heaven forbid there should be some "dirt" showing...
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Old January 2, 2010   #5
Join Date: May 2009
Location: Canada
Posts: 75

I do :-)) My space is no at all limited, but I hate to maintain more than I have to. And any exposed soil / pathways are covered with 3" of straw. kd
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