Gardening Tips for Seedy Characters: Week 28

What to do this week

Let’s talk a little about summer pruning.

Most things get pruned in the spring or the fall, but then again, there is the tomato. You can’t get serious about tomatoes without getting involved with the tomato pruning controversy. People always ask me where I stand on pruning the suckers from the tomato plant. The definitive answer is (wait for it): maybe. It depends on what you are hoping for from your tomato crop.

Tomato plant (Photo by Madeline Yakimchuk)

Tomato plant (Photo by Madeline Yakimchuk)

If you prune those suckers — the branches that start out from the joints where a branch meets the main stem — you will get bigger tomatoes. This is especially the case if you grow indeterminate tomatoes like beefsteak. If that is what you want, bigger tomatoes, definitely prune. But, if you don’t prune, even though your tomatoes will be smaller, you will get more pounds of tomatoes per plant.

There are also other things to consider:

If you prune a tomato plant, you allow more light to get to the fruit and they do tend to be more prone to sun scald and cracking. The plant doesn’t manage its water as well with less foliage. It will tend to dehydrate more because there is nothing shading the main stem. You will have to baby it along more, managing the light and moisture stresses for it. But if what you want is a gigantic, county fair tomato, go ahead and prune.

Another plant that people prune is corn, but this is always a good idea. Corn is a very heavy feeder, if you allow several suckers to develop the root system will not be able to supply enough nutrients to grow corn well on them all (or any of them).

Another bit of summer pruning you might want to think about is your apple trees, especially if you did a strong, restorative pruning in spring. Some apple trees will respond by growing many water sprouts — branches in the middle of the tree that go straight up; you will recognize them easily. Clip them off. This is not a growth habit you want to encourage as you will end up with too much dense growth that can limit light and air circulation. Of course, you don’t want to prune an apple tree too much in summer, but it is easy to clip these water sprouts now, before they grow stronger and require a saw. A hand clipper will be all you need.

Speaking of apple trees, I should mention that if you have a problem with apple maggots, now is the time to set your traps. I use Tangle-Trap, a sticky paste I brush onto reusable red spheres I hang on the southeast side of the trees. The flies think they are laying their eggs on the biggest and best apple ever. You can also goop up last year’s big, woody-tasting apples (sold at cut-rate prices now) and hang them. Clean up of the inevitable paste-on-fingers is accomplished by rubbing on a little cooking oil and then washing with soap and water.

Featured image: Corn by Madeline Yakimchuk.

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Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.




Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.




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