The pruning or training of tomatoes is not generally practiced, except in greenhouse culture, where single-stem training has met with universal favor. This system is also used to some extent in field and garden culture. The advantages claimed for it are: (1) The bulk of the fruit ripens earlier than under natural methods; (2) there is less trouble from various fungous diseases; (3) the fruit is larger and finer in every particular; (4) the fruit is clean when picked, thus the expense of preparing for market is reduced; (5) spraying and cultivation may be continued longer because the vines are not lying prostrate on the ground and interfering with these operations; (6) harvesting is more convenient; (7) on account of earlier maturity the land may be used for a second crop of vegetables, or for a cover crop to be used for manurial purposes.
While the results secured by many practical growers and the rather numerous investigations at the experiment stations support the foregoing arguments for this system, some practical growers are opposed to it and some tests at the stations are not favorable. The objection usually raised is, the expense of single-stem training. More plants are required to the acre; stakes must be provided, placed, removed after harvest and stored for the next crop; the axillary buds must be pinched out weekly and the plants tied to the stakes. These operations involve considerable labor and no grower should adopt the system unless he is certain of the required labor.
Single-stem training is practiced most extensively in the vicinity of Marietta, O. Probably 500 acres were staked in that region in the summer of 1910. In one field one often sees 20,000 to 30,000 plants, and at the height of the season, 10 or more cars are shipped in a day, all of the crop having been grown by this method. The pink tomatoes - Beauty, Acme, Globe, and June Pink - are the most popular varieties at Marietta. The strong, vigorous plants are set in check rows about 4 feet apart and the plants 30 inches apart in the row, 4,000 to 5,000 plants being generally set to the acre. The stakes are from 1 to 1« inches in diameter and 5 feet long, and are driven in the ground when the plants are set. They are split by hand from oak, since split stakes are stronger and more durable than sawed ones. The average cost of these stakes at Marietta is about I cent each. The plant is tied to the stake as soon as possible after planting. All side buds are nipped as soon as they appear. The plant is nipped when it reaches the top of the stake. It is supported by tying with coarse twine or raffia at four different places.
It is estimated that the average yield in the Marietta region is from 10 to 15 pounds, and that receipts run from 5 to 13 cents a plant. The tomatoes are packed in splint baskets holding 25 to 35 pounds, and shipped in refrigerator cars. Nearly all sales are made through the local association.
Another plan used sometimes, especially when there is a limited area of land available for this crop, is to plant about 2×4 feet apart, drive a strong stake at each plant, and tie up all vines without any pruning. This plan results in a much larger yield to the acre than if this extra work were not done, but the added expense is a very objectionable feature, and the system is seldom used. Various forms of trellises or supports, often used in home gardens, serve to keep the fruit clean and may reduce the percentage of rot.
The proper time of harvesting depends upon various factors, as distance from market, character of the weather and danger of frosts. In the far South, tomatoes are usually picked as soon as they show the slightest change in color. This always results in a sacrifice of quality, because the best flavor is developed when the fruits are permitted to remain on the vine until fully ripe. Even for local markets it is customary to pick the tomatoes before fully ripe, and this is generally necessary in order to have the fruit reach the consumer in solid condition. Tomatoes lose their firmness very rapidly in warm weather, so that it is especially important to guard against this trouble in handling the midsummer crop. When there is danger of destructive autumn frosts the only safe policy is to pick every specimen that shows any change in color. The fruits will continue to ripen in any convenient outbuilding or in the cellar. They also ripen rapidly under hotbed sash or in the greenhouse. Tomatoes should always be handled with the greatest care to avoid bruising.
The utmost care should be exercised in preparation for market if highest prices are to be realized. The tomatoes should be cleaned, stems removed and then carefully graded. Packages in great variety are used in handling this crop. The bushel basket is used in Michigan (Figure 46); bushel box at Boston; baskets of various forms and sizes; crates as represented in Figure 48 being especially desirable for long shipments. Figure 107 shows a package becoming more popular every year. Tomatoes are often wrapped in paper before packing. When grown for canning the ripe tomatoes are picked into crates or baskets and handled or shipped to the factories without cleaning or further attention.
According to Tracy the average yield of tomatoes grown for canneries (Tracy, W. W., "Tomato Culture," p. 117) probably does not exceed 100 bushels an acre. It is not difficult to produce 500 bushels on an acre. Yields of 800 are not unusual and even larger crops are frequently reported. The price paid for tomatoes by canning factories ranges from $7 to $10 a ton. The expenses of production and delivery to the factories vary so much that any figures which might be given would have very little value. The cost of starting the plants is a factor sometimes. High cost of labor to harvest the crop and a long haul to the factory may reduce the profits to a small margin. With good management, suitable land, labor at a reasonable cost and fairly close proximity to the factory, a fair profit should be realized at $9 to $10 a ton.
Fig. 107. Tomatoes Packed For Market.
When grown for market the profit should not be less than $100 an acre, and it is often much greater. Market conditions and the skill of the operator are the chief factors counting for success. Early tomatoes often sell at $2 or more a 6-basket carrier, while late in the season the price may become so low that it scarcely pays to harvest the crop. As a rule, the early crop is the more remunerative, while late tomatoes frequently pay good profits.
Cutworms are often destructive to the young plants. Surplus stock should be grown and held to fill vacancies that may occur from the depredations of these pests. Poisoned baits of bran, clover, weeds and other vegetable matter are usually effective when placed about the plants. Flea-beetles are also serious enemies sometimes.
The tomato is subject to various diseases, which often become serious. Rotation is the best means of prevention. Spraying with bordeaux mixture in the seed bed, and also after transplanting in the frames or the greenhouse, and in the garden or field, is frequently necessary to control the various fungous diseases.