By Lynn Byczynski
Tomatoes are one of the most popular crops for hoophouse production because they can be ready for harvest a month before field crops — at a time when prices are highest. Tomatoes grow robustly, and often for a longer time in the protected conditions of a hoophouse. As a result, the plants can get much taller than field-grown tomatoes. Indeterminate varieties are particularly high-yielding in a hoophouse, but they do require more maintenance. A plant with five or six fruiting clusters can exert 10–12 lb. of downward pull on its trellis, so pruning is essential, and the support system needs to be both tall and strong.
Trellishing is usually accomplished in one of two ways:
- The stake-and-weave system, also known as Florida weave or basket weave. Instead of putting a stake beside every tomato plant, stakes can be placed between every two or three plants. Strong T-posts should be driven into the soil at each end of the row. When the plants are about 12" tall, twine is tied to the T-post, then looped around each stake down the row. At the end of the row, the twine is looped around the other T-post, then passed down the other side to catch the plant between the two strings. Additional strings should be added as the plants grow, about 12" apart. Because hoophouse tomatoes get so tall and heavy, stakes should be at least 6' above the ground and driven into the soil securely.
- The hanging string system. Tall, strong posts should be driven into the ground every 20', with a strong wire stretched tightly between the posts. A length of twine is then tied to the wire above each tomato plant, and loosely tied to the base of the plant. Plants should be trained to one or two leaders (vines). The one-leader system results in a smaller yield, but better-flavored fruits. As the vines grow, they can be wrapped around the twine or attached with tomato clips. Again, the posts should be at least 6' above the ground.
When the crop is going to be left growing for six months or more, the vines will exceed this height. The usual strategy is to leave additional twine, so that the plants can be lowered when they get too tall. See the description of "leaning and lowering" in the Florida Greenhouse Vegetable Publication cited below.
- Tomato Production in Hoophouses, by Eric Sideman, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.
- Production of Tomatoes Within a High Tunnel, by Lewis W. Jett.
- Production of Greenhouse Tomatoes — Florida Vegetable Greenhouse Production Handbook, by G.J. Hochmuth.