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Beacon Senior News

How to best plant tomatoes and the Three Sisters

Apr 26, 2021 02:38PM ● By Paige Slaughter
A cluster of 7+ red tomatoes on a vine

It's tomato planting month!

Nothing says summer more than a fresh tomato straight from the garden!

I inherited my tomato-growing method from Sage Creations in Palisade. I love this method because as your tomato plants grow, the trellising system creates a wall of tomatoes, making pruning and harvesting much easier.


Planting tomatoes

First, place three stakes firmly in the ground in a row, each six feet apart. Dig four deep holes evenly spaced between each stake. The holes should be almost deep enough to bury the whole plant.

Add 1 teaspoon of Azomite to each hole. Fill holes with water. Prepare your plant starts by pinching off any suckers that may be starting to pop out from between stems. Pinching suckers makes for less bushy, more productive tomato plants.

Pull the plants out of their pots, loosen the roots with your hands and remove all lower leaves and stems. When you bury the stem, roots will emerge from that lower stem, giving your plant more capacity to root itself firmly in the soil. 

Fill any remaining gaps with soil and tamp down on the soil surrounding each plant so that the roots make good contact with the earth. If you’re using drip lines, now’s the time to set them in place. Whatever watering method you use, tomatoes prefer to be watered from below.

Last, create a trellis by tying a strong twine to the end stake, just a few inches off the ground. Pull the twine across one side of the plants; it should sit nicely alongside the plants below the first branching stem. Wrap it all the way around the middle stake then continue on towards the other end-stake; wrap it twice around, then pull the twine back toward the middle along the other side of the plants. Wrap it around the middle stake, then pull it towards the stake you started with, again hugging the opposite sides of the plants, and secure it tightly.

The end result is a line of twine that’s wrapped around your entire row of tomatoes. Gently pull the branching stems up and over the twine so that the plants’ lowest stems are supported by it. If your starts are tall, add another line of twine a few inches above this bottom one.

Repeat this process as your plants grow taller, pulling the branching stems above the twine so that the plants are fully supported. Keep caring for your plants as they grow by pinching off suckers and weeding.


Why they’re called Three Sisters

 

With origins in Mesoamerica, these three crops have co-evolved over thousands of years. Planting them together continues to be both a symbol of our connection to plants and a convenient and effective way to grow corn, squash and beans.

Sweet corn, dent, flint or flour corn is the “big sister,” providing support for climbing, nitrogen-fixing pole beans. Beans pull nitrogen from the air into the soil, benefiting all three plants (Corn likes a lot of nitrogen!). Finally, squashes’ large leaves act as a living mulch that keeps the soil cool and moist and suppresses weeds. 

To attract beneficial insects and deter squash bugs, add more “sisters” like sunflowers, nasturtium, bergamot and marigold. Plus, they look pretty.


How to plant them

Start by soaking corn seeds in water for a few hours before you plant them. Consider growing an organic, heirloom variety of sweet corn, popping corn or flour corn. Corn is heavily industrialized, and we gardeners can each do our part to preserve and perpetuate some incredible yet fading varieties. 

Use your finger to make 3- to 4- inch holes, 6 inches apart. Leave at least a foot of spacing around the outside of your corn “grid” as this is where you’ll plant the other sisters. Wait for your corn to start coming up. Once sprouts are 4 inches tall, sow a row of pole beans around the perimeter of your grid. 

Finally, around the edge of your bed, create small mounds of soil, 18 inches apart, and sow three squash seeds in each mound. Later, if all three sprouts come up, you can thin your mounds so that one strong plant comes up from each mound. The squash plants will spread outward and you’ll need room for weeding and harvesting; opt for bush beans in place of squash anywhere you’re limited
in space.


Wait till May 9

Be careful not to plant out your warm season crops too soon! Tomatoes, peppers and basil are especially sensitive to cold. While they may survive a few cold nights, it’ll take them longer to bounce back. Wait until at least Mother’s Day to transplant these garden favorites, and have a few bed sheets on hand to cover garden crops in case of late spring freezes.


Show us how companion planting plays out in your garden! Share your photos on Facebook and tag @BEACON Senior News