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Super-deep Tomato Planting

I often mention about deep-planting tomatoes so that they develop more roots to support larger vines with more fruit. By deep-planting I mean covering up around 10 cm of the stem which is the bit with the little root hairs that will grow when buried.

Border Tomatoes

Border Tomatoes from 2018 Growing up Strings

I’ve read about planting deep and angling the stem just under the surface before training it upwards along the string or pole. Not a method I’ve been successful with as I tend to break the stems which will only bend so far.

Anyway, I watched a video on Curtis Stone’s website (subscription required) From the Field about the very successful Bear Creek Organic Farm in Michigan, USA.  One small part of their operation is growing tomatoes in polytunnels.

The tomatoes grow up strings in rows, spaced at 15 inches apart in the row – a little tighter than I’d like but nothing unusual so far. They also plant deeply but – and this is where it gets unusual – very deeply indeed. An 18 inch plant will be buried up to just 3 inches from the top!

How they dig the holes is unusual too, although it makes perfect sense when you think about it. They’ve a lot of tomatoes to plant so speed and efficiency is important. What they do is to use a mechanical auger to drill holes into the ground. Usually these are used for digging post-holes when fencing.

Next they put some compost into the bottom of the hole, drop the plant in and backfill around the stem with more compost only leaving about 3 inches of the plant above ground. They don’t strip the leaves or anything, just drop that plant straight in.

Does it Work?

Being as he’s a farmer making a living from his growing, it must work for him but what a brave guy to try it in the first place.

I thought it might be interesting to try out this method and compare with plants grown using my normal method. I’ve actually got an auger, hand powered rather than with an engine. However, the handles are wide to give the operator better leverage. Too wide to turn it round in my greenhouse border. So this goes into the file marked ‘most likely a good idea, but not tested’

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary
14 comments on “Super-deep Tomato Planting
  1. Rowland Wells says:

    I have to say it seems quite a lot of work to get a few tomatoes John. I’ve never tried the string method because we usually get a fair crop from using canes and planting our tomatoes in large pots.

    So basically what’s the advantage of growing tomatoes using that method John?

    • John Harrison says:

      The idea is to encourage root growth on the basis that the more roots the plant has the more fruit trusses can be supported. I find stringing the plants is less hassle than poles.

  2. Rowland Wells says:

    as we always use canes I will be giving string a go this year to see if its as good as my canes

  3. Mary Graham says:

    I grow tomatoes outside against my shed. I grow in 9 inch pots with another bottomless one on top partly sunk in. I deep plant and get good results. I find growbags are useless and a waste of money. As soon as fruit appears I give a feed of home made liquid comfrey fertiliser about once every 2 weeks or weaker solution weekly.

  4. tony walsh says:

    Hi John, I don’t know about the efficacy of deep-hole planting as such, but I guess it has somewhat the same effect as planting at an angle, in that you cover as much of the stem as possible. However I’m intrigued that they don’t remove any leaves before planting. Wouldn’t there be a possibility of rots or moulds spreading from the rotting leaves directly to the main stem?

    Also, a point of information. When planting at an angle the tops should not be bent up, with the possibility of being broken, but left to straighten up by themselves.They’ll do this remarkably quickly!

    Regards
    Tony

    • John Harrison says:

      Thanks for the info on planting at an angle, Tony. The deep planting chap is growing for a living so he seems to have everything figured. If he was getting rot problems then he wouldn’t do it. I trimmed the sideshoots and leaves off mine and didn’t plant as deeply – mainly because you hit so many stones as you go down, they’re looking well (fingers crossed)

  5. Fran V says:

    Hi John. Just a quick memo about growing tomatoes outdoors. I had some spare plants last year and put then in some spare ground, with no special preparation of the soil. The results were remarkable, tho I did use the variety Outdoor Girl. I know that last year was exceptional for outdoor growing, but I’m sure we could remove some of our hang ups about what we can and can’t do if we took a chance every so often. l live in the Pennines, where the weather can be really cruel, but have had good results more often than not when taking chances. This year my outdoor varieties are Ildi, Red Cherry and Marmande… Fingers crossed

  6. Keith Johnson says:

    Hi John I have raised beds filled with multi purpose compost that are about 15 inches deep, last year I added some garden compost to one and planted my leeks. Two tomato plants come up and I left them to grow they were not fed or even watered as by the time I got round to watering the compost had dried too much for the water to soak in. Anyway I finished up with 10Kg of tomatoes 5 off each plant so do we really need to feed and water tomatoes so much? I will be interested in your opinion. Keith

  7. Doug says:

    You can achieve quite deep planting with growbags (bear with me!). Lay the growbag flat and agitate the innards to move the compost to each end. Then cut the bag across the middle (where there is no compost any more). Stand the two halves on end so they look like buckets. Plant your tomatoes and then top-up and backfill the bags with extra compost. You can plant them well over a foot deep in this way with no fear of stones. Easy peasy and gives me good results with at least 5 strong trusses without a greenhouse.

  8. Mike Whittall says:

    I often have tomatoe plants that are very spindly as a result of growing for longer indoors than I would wish, and I regularly plant very deep. So far so good, and even in the Highlands of Scotland we usually get a super crop.

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