Friday, April 16, 2010

Tomato hammocks

One of my readers has asked me to post a picture of my tomato hammocks.  I learned about these from the book No Work Gardening by Ruth Stout.  It's a great book, in and out of print from time to time.  If you can find a copy, and if you like to garden, then it is worth the investment.

To make the hammocks, pound in two 6' T-posts, 30" apart, every seven feet.  Then get some metal rods (I got some from the hardware store and had my auto mechanic cut them to 30" for me) and insert them in the T-posts about 18" from the ground, the length of your row.  

Now you will lay 36" chicken wire, sometimes called poultry netting, over the posts, supported by the rods.  Then repeat this process putting the rods in 34" from the ground.  You should now have two horizontal layers of chicken wire at 18" and 34" for the tomatoes to grow through.

I use 2" netting for three reasons - it is cheaper, it's easier to install, and the tomatoes will grow up through it easier.

To finish the process, I heavily mulch under the row well before I am taking tomatoes out to plant.  I do not move the rows - they stay in the same place year after year.  If you use mulch properly, you are actually building new topsoil every year.  The mulch doesn't have to be turned under - just let it lie on top of the ground and compost.  Ruth Stout has much to say on that subject, and she kept everything in her garden in the same place for decades.  No rotating.

I let the plants die off in the hammocks.  By the following spring, they are very easy to pull out of the hammocks, since they are dry and brittle.

In each seven-foot section of the row, I plant five plants in a "W" shape, inverting the "W" in every other section.  That is, the tomatoes are not put in a row exactly in the middle, but are alternated, with the three at the top of the "W" closer to one side, the two at the bottom of it closer to the other.  Since I save seeds, I plant three of each variety together, and take seeds from the middle tomato plant.  Even though tomatoes are not prone to cross pollinating, it assures the the plant you got your seeds from had neighbors of its own kind on both sides.

You might have to tuck in a stem or two here and there.  Some of the bigger plants will want to spill into the walkway. I have two 100' rows like this, and I mow between the rows. It's nice to have a lawn to sit in while you are picking.

I've been using this method for five years now, and I highly recommend it.  In fact, I highly recommend just about everything Ms. Stout recommends in her book.  Smart woman, was Ruth Stout!

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