I got home from the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania yesterday. My two workshops went well. My Friday presentation on Fall and Winter Hoophouses was the first time I had spoken on the “main stage” – the Mother Earth News stage, with at least 600 seats. On Saturday I presented Spring and Summer Hoophouses at the GRIT Stage. Both groups had plenty of people with good questions, keeping me busy till the last minute. After the Friday presentation I signed books and chatted with people at the MEN Bookstore.
And then there were the demos. At four set times over the weekend, I got out my table-top model and showed people how to string-weave tomatoes. As you see in the photo, I had pieces of pink tinsel Christmas tree branches up-cycled into model tomato plants, with #2 pencils as stakes.
String-weaving (also known as basket-weaving and Florida string weaving) is a cheap, easy way to support lots of tomato plants, and all you need to store over the winter are the stakes. No bulky cages or heavy cattle panels or cumbersome rolls of wire mesh. True, you do need to buy twine every year, but then many of the other support methods use twine also.
The ATTRA publication Organic Tomato Production includes a comparison of different training and support methods. String-weaving comes out well in all categories. It isn’t best for high yields per plant, so people who only grow a few plants won’t choose this method. They’ll go for a more expensive and more time-consuming option. But if you have long rows, this method is ideal.
Our variation on string-weaving looks fairly like this drawing from the Extension Service. We have a couple of tricks to make it work even better. As in this drawing, we use a 2ft wood stick with a hole drilled at each end and the twine running through. Our first trick is to park the bale of twine in a bucket at the beginning of the row and leave it there. No need to lug it with you! (We have long rows!) Putting the bale of twine in a bucket makes it easy to carry and provides a space to store scissors and gloves. Stand between the working end of the twine and the slack being pulled out of the bucket. That is, the spare twine will be running out behind you as you work the first side of the row. You’ll use it for the return journey. We tie the twine to the end stake, pass in front of two tomatoes and the next stake, wrap the twine around the back of the stake, pull tight, put a finger on the cross-over to hold it tight, and wrap round again, making sure that the second loop ends up below the first. This locks the twine so that if you let go, or later on a groundhog chews through your twine, the whole row doesn’t get loose.
At the end of the row, take the tool round to the other side and work back in the same way, at the same level as the first side. You will need to flip the twine that was behind you on the first side over to your new working side as you need it. Once you reach the end, tie off the twine and cut it.
You’ll see that you never actually wrap twine around a tomato plant, so there is never any injury from tight twine. The plants are simply held between two walls of twine that you “build” by making a new round once a week as the plants grow.
At the end of the season, cut the twine and pull it out, then remove the stakes and till in the tomato plants.
The September/October edition of the Organic Broadcaster is out, and you can download the free pdf at the link. There are articles about cover crops, mushroom growing, tax planning, growing small grains, transitioning a dairy farm to organic, winter feeding of cattle, an update on avian flu and a review of the new book The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer by Jeff Carpenter with Melanie Carpenter.