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Blog: The Tomato Circle: Planting Tomatoes Horizontally

Baby Brandywines on their first day.
Photo Credit
J. Stillman
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I think I learned something last weekend about growing tomatoes.

A woman at the high school plant sale told me that tomato roots like warmth; they shouldn't be set deep in the soil. Then she picked up a six-pack of long, leggy tomato plants. She pointed at the “bumps” at the bottom of the stem. “Those are new roots,” she said. “Instead of digging down, when you set this plant, dig horizontally. Lay the root ball and the stem in the horizontal 'hole' up to the first leaf. Pull that leaf off. Then cover the root ball and stem, including where the leaf was, with soil.”

She advised planting the six tomatoes in a circle, with the root balls in the center and the plant stems forming the “spokes.”

Have you heard of or had luck (good or bad) with this planting method?

I did it, and I have high hopes for lots of Romas to slow roast!

July 1: Romas are not very promising but the Brandywines may be the most productive ever, thanks in large part to a heap of Cock-a-Doodle fertilizer and the remains of the horse manure/wood chip pile. Now, if I can only keep the beetles away!

July 18: The plants are big and bushy (the best my tomatoes have ever looked), but there are few flowers and no fruits.

Elsewhere in the garden, massive moths have been spotted. Some believe these are signs of pests to come.

July 25: After five days of rain, some of it torrential, the sky is finally clear and the sunshine is brilliant. Hopefully this will “push” the little yellow tomato flowers into becoming fat fruits.

August 14: Lots of fat green brandywine tomatoes on the vines, thanks to all of the rain we have had. I saw some poop from what I guess is a finger-size horn worm, but could not see the creature itself anywhere. I fear that any day now, I will discover that he will snuck into the garden and took killer bites out of my tomatoes. Does anyone know of any defenses? The Romas have been slower to develop, but if all of the flowers become fruits it will be a bountiful harvest. That is, if I can keep the worm(s) away.

About woody radishes: I think they just grow too big to be tender. I let some of mine go to seed and many are now as big as potatoes, while the greens have sent up lovely white flowers.

The carrots are getting fat as baseball bats and the beets are becoming like baseballs. Ah, but those beet greens are delicious lightly steamed, then sauteed in butter and a few drops of lemon.

Picked two heads of half rotted, mushy green/white cabbage this past week and one good one. I never saw a pest on the plants, so perhaps the brown mushiness was caused by all the rain…? The one good head was delicious, too, as slaw.

Nearby, the cauliflower is coming along nicely and a second planting of greens (spinach and lettuces) should be ready soon.

August 20: Grasshoppers and beetles have devastated the bean crops. Absolutely wiped them out. It has never been so bad. The beautiful bed that held so much promise (and pods) is leafless and lifeless. Bean pods hang limply from fragile stems, the leaves, now peppered with holes, are decaying on the ground. A measly few of the cranberry bean pods actually matured enough to take on the lovely pink and creamy-white color. I opened one pod and inside were five teeny beans with a fresh, healthy, almost polished mauve and white surface. In another, were four stone-like beige beans. Such complete elimination is astounding. (I will take a picture before I rip out the remains.)

Meanwhile, the tomatoes, Brandywines and Romas, are thriving. I have removed two nasty horn worms so far, and only yesterday, stripped off most of the plants' leaves in hopes that the big green beauties will turn red; warm days are forecast.

The Brussels sprouts are starting to form nicely on the stalks of most of the plants. The second set of beets are coming along nicely (last night I mistook beets for spinach and picked off lots of leaves; oh well, they're edible too).

August 25: The pests that destroyed the bean crop are Mexican bean beetles! According to a local source, every gardener in our plots would have to refrain from growing beans for three years, if we have any hope of getting rid of these bugs.