Around late June, I got an email from my Dad that freaked me out a little bit. It said, "OMG, look what I just did," with these BEFORE and AFTER pictures: BEFORE:
First of all, I love that my Dad used the phrase "OMG" (and he seems to have used it in absolutely the right way). Cause, secondly, OH EM GEE just LOOK at what he did to those plants! In my inexperienced gardening eyes, I was sure he just massacred the plant-babies he'd just spent the last six weeks nursing. (Err... sorry; that was kind of violent.)
I kind of freaked out. Even though my Dad told me that he was "tomato whacking" - which brought me absolutely no solace - I mean, that is a terrible name! - and my Dad is a gardening GURU who knows what he's talking about - I was sure that he had messed up, big time.
I went out searching on the internets, and found a few unhelpful posts, saying various things to various degrees. Not everyone agrees on this "whacking" business, or especially how, how much, how often?, etc. But, the essential idea is to prune the branches of the tomato plant that are not producing "fruit" so that the energy of the plant stays focused on growing the fruit, i.e., the tomatoes, and therefore creates MORE tomatoes. In other words, it doesn't waste energy trying to keep parts of the plant alive and thriving that don't make tomatoes, and invests that energy into the tomato-making.
To do that, you "whack" off the unnecessary branches. (Ugh. Terrible name.)
The concept makes sense... But did he over do it?? I was sure he had.
I mean just LOOK at how many branches he took off ONE plant... and just look how sad those naked little tomato plants in the bottom left corner look.
But I can say now that whatever my dad did (Tomato Whacking!) - it worked.
Here's some basic math:
My Dad planted 90 tomato plants. (I know, go big, right?) We figure that each tomato plant has (or will) produce somewhere around 40 tomatoes (depending on the kind of plant). That means we have (or will) produce somewhere around 3,500 or so tomatoes. (And that's a conservative estimate.)
Compare that to last year, when my Dad did NOT whack the tomato plants:
70 tomato plants x ~20 tomatoes per plant = ~1,500 tomatoes.
We more than DOUBLED our harvest this year while only slightly increasing the number of plants–and my Dad is convinced it's because of the tomato whacking. (Don't ask my Mom how she feels about all the unexpected tomatoes... we are STILL CANNING... )
This is how they looked a few weeks after the tomato whacking.
Some of the key benefits we've noticed from this year's tomato whacking:
1. There's a reduction in wasted tomatoes: More tomatoes stay on the plant, instead of falling and rotting on the ground! Because of how you prune the plant, the tomatoes are growing on the sturdier branches, on the center of the plant. So, they aren't out on limbs as much, weighing the plant down, gravity pulling it down toward the earth where little critters like to nibble... So, more tomatoes for us instead of the critters!
Last year, we were throwing away almost as many half-eaten fruit (by the friendly field mice) as we picked. This year there are very few "targets" for the mice and as a result we have not become the local field mouse house for a smorgasbord every evening. Bonus!
(Jer-Bear left a few tomato plants not "whacked" for comparison. They have many more tomatoes on the ground and more ground rot on the fruit.)
2. They are healthier plants: We do not have the leaf of the plants getting any sort of leaf diseases like we did when so many of the branches were on the ground. Yay!
3. They grow their own shade. One of the things I had read about and was concerned about when I first saw the "after" picture was whether or not the tomatoes would still have enough shade. But because of how you prune the plant, it very quickly grows its own shade back.
3. They're easier to harvest. It's a more controlled plant. Although the plants still get quite large, last year we could barely make our way through the garden because of the growth of the tomato plants. This year, we can maneuver our way through more easily and pick the tomatoes with much less ninja-crawling and plants vs. zombie nightmares.
4. Aaaand.... They produce more tomatoes. Yep. Jer-Bear also noted a considerable amount of new tomatoes on the top even now in late September. THEY JUST KEEP COMING!
It was one of those 'wait and see' moments, where I very skeptically held my tongue. I was sure I would be comforting my Dad as we struggled to get enough tomatoes to fulfill all of our salsa-canning dreams.
BOY WAS I WRONG.
Dad, you are the Gardening Guru. Great work on this, Dad. It's amazing.