August 29, 2021 5 min read 0 Comments
The lower and lean method of trellising indeterminate tomatoes in a hoop house has many advantages. Ease of working conditions and maximum fruit production are the key features of this style of tomato growing. When done properly pruning along with lowering and leaning will increase productivity and keep your plants healthier.
Working on a ladder in the hoop house adds the risk of injury particularly when you are using both hands to work the plant. It is also darn hot in the upper regions of the house. Keeping your working zone closer to cross ventilation and shade will dramatically improve your comfort level as well as the comfort of your plants.
Indeterminate tomatoes, also referred to as vine tomatoes, have no predetermined height. This type will continue to lengthen and branch over a long growing season. Their flowering time is likewise undetermined meaning they will continue to flower and fruit as long as proper growing conditions are maintained. Indeterminate tomatoes are the ideal types for trellising.
Determinate or bush tomatoes will grow to a predetermined height, generally between 3-4 feet, and then produce a large quantity of fruit that all ripens within a limited time frame. These types are used most frequently for canning and processing. Determinate tomatoes are better suited to caging or basket weaving support structures.
Support Structure - Typically in hoop houses this is a high wire structure which we will cover building in the next part of this series.
Hooks - Used to hold the trellis line to the support structure. We prefer roller hook assemblies.
Trellis Line - Be sure to use UV resistant lines.
Stem Clips or Ties - Clips are the fastest option. Order in bulk for best prices, you will need a lot.
Clippers - For pruning in tight spaces we recommend using ones with pointed tips.
There are two main types of tomato hooks that hold twine and secure it to a high wire trellis. Nick at Bootstrap Farmer prefers the roller hooks where twine is let down from a prerolled spool by squeezing the wire cage assembly. This type allows for easy and precise lowering of the line and hooks securely to trellis wire without tangling.
The other type is made of a single piece of wire bent in a shape that has hooks on both ends and space to wrap twine. They are usually sold according to how the extra twine is wrapped, often referred to as V-hook, O-hook, or horsetail-hook. They have a tendency to tangle easily.
When properly trellised using the lower and lean method the vine has the room for the four parts of production:
This bare pruning helps create airflow at the base where roll up side cross ventilation can help keep vines cool and aid in pollination. The lowering of the vines further help airflow at the top part of the hoop house where air is hottest.
To make the most of your available space while trellising tomatoes, you will alternate directions when leaning the plants. This means as you move each plant you will leapfrog it past the next plant that is headed in the opposite direction. This is done by pulling the hook from the support wire and moving around and past the next plant. Carefully attach the top of the vine with a clip below the lead sucker and prune as needed. Depending on your working preferences, you can prune each vine before you lean it or after.
For vines that are overgrown you may need to prune a significant amount before you lean the plant. It is always easiest to prune the bare stem section before you lower the plant to save too much bending over to cut. When you lower the vine aim to have the crown around 6 inches below the support wire. This provides ample space at the top of the house to vent and circulate hot air while protecting the new growth.
Some growers will lean plants in groups of two. The first plant or two will head towards the back of the house. The space left by leaning the first plant will make space for you to lean the next plant in line towards the front of the house. Alternate leaning directions as you travel down each row switching sides as needed to prune comfortably.
When you reach the end of the row you will wrap the vine past and around existing stems to create the “racetrack” of stems that circles each row. This keeps the vines close to the root section of the plant and out of the foot traffic in your paths. Keeping the bare vines up off the ground and out of the paths makes working the plants much easier. It also keeps the plants from being damaged by an errant boot.
Keeping up with vine growth in the hoop house is easiest if you plan to prune, lower and lean a day or two after each harvest. Following these steps every week will help you grow wildly productive plants throughout the growing season. Using proper equipment from the outset will keep you and your plants out of the hottest part of the hoop house.
In the next part of this series we will address how to build a trellis system in your hoop house along with how to calculate what supplies you will need. The fourth part will go over possible issues you will run into in the processes of pruning, lowering and leaning. In that article we will also address what to do in the event your plants have become overgrown. We will also discuss how to succession plant rows for continual harvests throughout your growing season.