April 16, 1999
It's been a year since I wrote Two Tomato Experiments, and about seven months since I picked my last tomato. I'd say it's about time I finally summarized what I learned, wouldn't you?
You may recall that with eight of my test plants I ran a trial to see if I could observe any benefits resulting from the practice of trench planting. Four of my early plants, and four of my later plants, were paired up according to variety. With each pair, one of the plants was transplanted at the same depth it grew in the pot. The other had the majority of its leaves stripped off, and this denuded part of the stem was planted underground in a trench along with the roots (these will be referred to as "trenched" plants hereafter).
My results were not clear-cut either way. One trenched plant did surpass its matched partner. Another trenched one, however, dramatically lagged its counterpart. The remaining two plants came close to catching up with their untrenched partners, but were still a little smaller when the season ended. They did yield approximately equal amounts of tomatoes though.
What I conclude from this is that there is no real benefit to trench planting if your plants are transplanted when they should be. If you do trench plant, though, you're not setting them back much either. This is a surprise, since I expected to see the trenched plants lag the others and yield less (as I admitted in the first article, I was biased against the "common wisdom" in this case). I would definitely recommend trench planting if you are transplanting a tomato that has outgrown its pot or is rootbound - certainly a common occurance if you're purchasing tomato plants at a nursery or store. Whether you believe in trench planting or not, the best advice is certainly to raise your own and transplant them at the appropriate stage of development.
In my other experiment I attempted to determine whether or not tomatoes started as early as possible were adversely affected in flavor, yield, or plant development when compared to tomatoes started about one month later. This question arose due to the fact that getting them off to such an early start means they're being grown under somewhat unfavorable conditions early in life. Four pairs of tomato varieties were again used for this test; one of each was started in early March, the others in early April.
The basic answer is no. I did not observe anything that would lead me to believe getting an early start on the tomato season, and growing them under sub-optimal conditions, diminished the quality of the fruit or the plant. In a side by side taste test, the fruit from the two sets was not distinguishable within a single variety. As you would expect, the plants that were started earlier did produce fruit first, by about two weeks. Also they yielded more over the season, which is not a surprise.
The thing to remember with this experiment is that, although I did start the first set much earlier than the second set, it wasn't so early that I risked exposing them to temperatures that would permanently harm them. From experience I know that by March 1st the temperatures in my growing area (our enclosed, but unheated, back porch) will not get below 45F, and rarely drop below 50F. Were I to start them even a week or two earlier it would be likely that they would see an occasional drop below 40F. I fully expect that experiencing such a low temperature at that early stage of their development would set them back significantly (and perhaps permanently) .
So have we learned anything? Certainly nothing earth shattering; the results did end up being what I expected, at least to some degree. But I had fun doing it, and fun is a large part of why I garden! I'd like to encourage you to occasionally take on this mind set. Don't always accept the gardening status quo - think about how you garden, and consider if there might be better or different ways to do things. Who knows, maybe you'll find out something new and exciting!
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This page was last updated July 9, 2011