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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Japanese Tomato Ring

(HOW TO BUILD INSTRUCTIONS are farther down the page... scroll down.)

This post is from my web site, The Garden At Crocker Croft.
Dated July, 2006.

This year I have another Japanese tomato ring. Had one several years ago at a different house. Didn't have a good place for one here. Tried growing tomatoes down in the dell, but they didn't do well.

Then, somewhere around 2001, "The Most Important Tree", a huge hackberry tree near the house gave in to gravity, split and fell every which way all over everywhere. What a day that was, but that's another story. Now its spot was available… and now, there was plenty sunlight.

At first, I planted a small butterfly bed in its place so we could see the butterflies from the window. The plants thrived on the soft, spongy, balsa-like decaying wood from the tree. I added homemade compost. Everything grew too tall - the purple coneflowers (Echinacea) fell over and had to be staked and tied. After a few years, I grew tired of that, so this year they were moved down into the new wildflower meadow in the dell where they are doing very well. All the while, I had my eye on that spot for growing some good homegrown ripe-on-the-vine tomatoes.

I explained to one of my helpers what I wanted, showed him a newspaper photo, and he "built" it. The plants have reached the top of the fence and are full of young green tomatoes.

The system calls for only four plants. I chose four different kinds rather as an experiment to see which kind, or kinds, we'd like best, and which do well in that location. There is one of each variety and the varieties are: Brandy Wine, Beef Steak, Big Boy, and Better Boy.

We have high hopes of many tomato and cottage cheese lunches and wonderful bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches. Tomato season is the only time of the year we buy bacon, and bologna, and one of the few times we use the mayonnaise-type salad dressing we like. We know it isn't good for our health, but tomatoes call for it. Hopefully, those few meals won't do us in.

You might like to try the system, yourself; it's quite a tomato "factory". In the Lexington, Kentucky, Herald-Leader, newspaper, April 26, 2003, writer Beverly Fortune gave the following instructions. I couldn't explain it any better, if as well, so will quote from her article:

"The tomato ring works this way: In the center of a wire ring are compost, topsoil and fertilizer, with four tomato plants around the outside. The compost keeps the soil moist and helps prevent blossom end rot. The nutrients leach into the soil during the summer, guaranteeing the plants a constant rich diet. They respond with a bumper crop of tomatoes.

Take a 15-foot length of wire fencing and form it into a circle about 5 feet in diameter. It helps stabilize the ring if you first drive four 5-foot iron stakes into the ground and stretch the wire around them.

In the center of the ring, spread about 6 inches of compost. Shovel in a wheelbarrow of good soil.
Add half of a 10-pound box of balanced fertilizer (10-10-10).

Make the pile slightly funnel-shaped in the center to hold water.

Repeat these three layers.

Plant just four tomato plants around the outside of the ring. Water outside the ring when the plants are small, inside the ring as they become large. As the vines grow, tie them to the wire with strips of soft rags." (End Quote)

I use metal fence posts for a more permanent installation, then set the plants at the posts and tie them to the posts for more stability, and then to the fence wire as they grow and spread. Any watering I do goes into the center of the ring. The plants will run their roots into that area for moisture and nutrients. They grew so fast I got way behind with my tying up - as you can see in the photo.

Do remember: tomatoes are warm weather plants. They like warm soil and air. If planted too early into cool earth, they will sit and sulk and not grow, may even get diseased. Also, if the air temperature gets too hot, say in the nineties or more, they will drop some blossoms. Guess there's nothing we can do about that. It all sounds tricky, but it isn't really, actually quite easy and certainly worth the effort, in my opinion.

August 31, 2006

For several weeks, now, we have enjoyed an abundance of huge luscious ripened-on-the-vine tomatoes. The stems were so large and strong; we couldn't break them and had to use pruners to gather those fragrant orbs.

What a good feeling to have so many we could share with neighbors and local family - all from only four plants! Almost unbelievable.

As the season begins to wind down, I'm considering snipping the growing tips from the vines so instead of more top growth; hopefully, they will spend their energy ripening the fruit already set.

At season's end, we will enjoy fried green tomatoes, and wrap the rest individually in newspaper and let them "ripen" in a box to extend the season. They will turn red, but the quality won't be as good as when they ripened on the vine. But, that's ok, they'll be as good or better than any we could buy in the grocery stores, probably by then we'll be glad to have any kind we can get. I've read of people doing that and eating the last of their crop in November as they placed homegrown tomatoes on their Thanksgiving dinner table.

Oh! And which was our favorite? I think it was the Brandywine of pink skin and solid flesh - but the others are delicious, too.
Wish I could hand you a few.


Shala said...

Thank you so much for sharing this, we might give this a try next year. This method could be used outside of our garden fence so the area inside could be used for different veggies.

Anonymous said...

This is great, Barbee! Thanks SO much for sharing your results. I'd heard of this technique (though never called "Japanese" before), but hadn't heard of anyone who'd actually done it. It's a great idea! Incidentally, we and our tomato-loving chickens all love 'Brandywine' best, too.

lostlandscape said...

I've grown frustrated of the pre-fab tomato cages which do such a poor job of supporting the plants. I'll try this technique next chance I get!

Kate in NJ said...

That sounds pretty good, thanks for sharing it.We wrap our late season tomatoes in newspaper and box them up every year and almost always have tomatoes from our garden on our table come Thanksgiving.

Barbee' said...

Shala: You are welcome. I don't know about that. If you are pestered by critters damaging your tomatoes, you might want to leave them inside the fenced area.

OFBen: Hi! Mmmm, Brandywine-tomato stuffed chickens, do you cook them with a little tarragon?

Lostlandscape: I know what you mean about the flimsy pre-fab cages, they don't do well with the large vining indeterminate plants. I have never grown the other kind; those cages may work for them. I don't know.

Kate in NJ: Sounds as though you and your garden are very successfu! I am wondering if I should grow something other than tomatoes in that ring some years to keep disease from building up. Maybe I should not have such a permanent structure after all. I didn't think of that at the time. Maybe next year I should grow some type of climbing beans.

Jean Ann said...

Hey Barbee, been so busy I haven't been around much...your tomato cages look good...we haven't even warmed up enough to have any yet...hope you are well

DP Nguyen said...

Thank you for the info. I might try it out!

Cinj said...

What a great idea! I'd love to grow some of our own food.

Sorry, I haven't been getting out and about much lately with all of the projects I've been working on lately!

Brenda Kula said...

Wow, those are some nice looking tomatoes! And right when everyone is having problems finding them! Thank you so much for visiting my blog today, and I'm glad to have found yours! I'll be back!

Barbee' said...

Jean Ann: What a treat to hear from you. I know everyone is working like crazy. Appreciate your stopping by.

DP Nguyen: If you do, be prepared for a lot of tomatoes.

Cinj: Hi, Cindy, It's a real tomato factory. I know, it's gotten a little bit quieter in blog-land now that we can get outside and do things. Everyone is so busy.

Brenda: Thank you for visiting. Stop by anytime.

Anonymous said...

Interesting concept... now for some wide-open spaces where I could attempt this project. I once had a huge compost bin (3/4 full), near a seldom-used clothesline, in which I planted six 'Sweet 100' tomato plants. By season end, they were tied to seven foot stakes, fastened up over the entire clothesline and across an adjacent fence. Most productive vines I ever grew and I kept adding kitchen scraps and garden waste throughout the summer. Fed them with Neptune's Harvest fish/seaweed blend every 7-10 days, for an extra boost.

My rather congested suburban yard is largely shaded, so most of veggies are container grown, to take advantage of available sun.

Great blog, by the way - I'll be back, as time allows... between writing six blogs, including a 4-page monthly garden newsletter, working at a garden center and tending my own gardens. You're right - it's a busy time of year!.....Deb

Barbee' said...

Deb: I love your tomato story! I can just visualize it, climbing and draping all over. Happy plants, I'd say.

If you had that today, as busy as your are, you wouldn't have time to pick them! When do you ever sleep!