In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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Annual Garden Update, Part 1

One of my longest ongoing performance improvement projects is, of course, my garden. As such, I figured I should post a few updates about my garden, including how I’ve improved some approaches to make my garden “better” this year. “Better” as measured for my garden includes higher yields and better quality output.

Update 1: tomatoes! They have the most radical “improvement” – or at least, I am hoping it will be an improvement. I haven’t harvested any tomatoes yet, but I am hopeful.

I am following the radical guidance in the “Tomato Secrets” article from a recent issue of BackHome Magazine which promotes a very aggressive pruning strategy but only for the leaves. The suckers that grow in the “crotch” or join between the main stem and a leaf – those get to stay, because a lot of times they do produce fruit if you let them go long enough. This is backwards from most pruning guides and my tomatoes look very awkward and leggy as a result. But I’m happy to try anything (well, almost anything), at least once.

These jelly bean tomatoes are being woven back and forth through painted PVC bars for support. Last year we used a wooden trellis that had to be destroyed at the end of the year because it had weathered so badly. Hoping that the PVC structure can be reused over multiple years, reducing the cost and time to set up each year.

A jellybean grape tomato, woven between cross bars for support

A jellybean grape tomato, woven between cross bars for support

Here’s another view. All the “salad” tomatoes (three jelly beans and one sun sugar cherry) are trained up this trellis. Once they reach the top, they should trail across the top and perhaps even down the other side… maybe! Another big difference between last year’s trellis and this year’s – this one is short enough I can reach the top. Last year I had to use a ladder to reach tomatoes at the top. This year, yield should be improved just because I’ll actually be able to reach everything!  (Also, notice the peppers in the center of the structure.)

Weaving cherry and grape tomatoes through bars for support

Weaving cherry and grape tomatoes through bars for support

For the slicing tomatoes (a San Marzano roma, a Better Boy hybrid and a beefsteak hybrid), we re-used the “artificial fence” concept from last year. Although we did change it up, using plastic “chicken” fence with much smaller holes than last year. This gives me more options on where to tie off the tomatoes for support.  This view shows the San Marzano (which is indeterminate – all my tomatoes are indeterminate this year).

A San Marzano Roma tomato, spreadeagle against a fake fence for support

A San Marzano Roma tomato, spreadeagle against a fake fence for support

This view shows the Better Boy (left) and Beefsteak (right). Both are still very “leafy” because the BackHome article is very clear – once fruit has set and is about the size of a pea, you remove all the leaves below that. Well, each of these plants has only set a few fruit, near the bottom!

Two slicing tomato plants, spreadeagle against a fake fence for support

Two slicing tomato plants, spreadeagle against a fake fence for support

Last but not least, our other major change this year: a cute popup greenhouse. (Which may not survive the year, given the nasty storms we’ve already had this summer.)  Three tomatoes are in containers in the greenhouse, to protect them from the fluctuations of local rainfall and the ravages of the wind. Oh yeah, and tomato hornworms.

Another beefsteak, this one in the greenhouse:

A hybrid slicing tomato plant in the greenhouse

A hybrid slicing tomato plant in the greenhouse

A family portrait: two more San Marzano Romas.

Two roma tomato plants in our greenhouse

Two roma tomato plants in our greenhouse

There are two other tomatoes which aren’t shown here. One, whose variety I forgot, is in a container on our back deck. The other “volunteered” in the middle of our strawberry patch, and I didn’t have the heart to pull it up after it had grown big enough for me to realize it was there!