What is the best approach for staking tomatoes?
Answer: The basic stake approach is best for both indeterminate and determinate tomatoes. It provides support to the seedling during development and will prevent the tomato stem from snapping during moderate winds. Using a naturally rot-resistant wood stake such as cedar will help prevent the stakes from rotting and toppling over. Treated wood stakes are prohibited under the USDA organic regulations. For more information on alternatives to treated wood, see the ATTRA publication Pressure-Treated Wood: Organic and Natural Alternatives.
Wire cages are best for indeterminate plant types on smaller farms. This system is most common among home and market gardeners because the added support assures optimal growth, but it is often expensive and time consuming. Threading two stakes through the wires assures optimal sturdiness.
Staking on plastic mulch, used for both determinate and indeterminate types, is typically accompanied by drip irrigation and tensiometers to monitor soil moisture. Floating row covers and tunnels are used in some instances to provide frost protection and to enhance early production.
Staking on organic mulch is similar to using plastic mulch, but unlike plastic, organic straw mulch has soil-enhancing benefits that are often preferred by the organic grower. These mulches cool the soil, as compared to plastic mulches, which can be a disadvantage in the spring when plastic mulches are promoting more plant growth. However, later in the season when temperatures are higher, organic mulches have an advantage over plastics.
A trellis system is best used to train indeterminate tomatoes. Plants usually produce fewer fruits with this system as compared to others, but the fruits are larger and typically ripen earlier. Sunburned fruit may be a problem, however, due to the decreased leaf canopy.
The stake-and-weave method can be used for both plant types. Weaving the string in and out of the plants ensures support when the plants are loaded with fruit. This method is easy to maintain, supports a large number of tomatoes in a small space, is inexpensive, and requires little storage space (Evans, 2004).
You’ll learn much more by consulting the ATTRA publication Organic Tomato Production. It addresses practical questions on organic tomato production. It focuses on the specific production challenges, including site selection (soil and climate), variety selection, sources of organic seeds and organic annual transplants, organic grafting, planting and training/staking arrangements, soil fertility and fertilization, crop rotation, and pest (insect, disease, and weed) management. Harvest and yield/productivity are closely related to marketing possibilities. While market conditions are extremely region-specific, this publication also addresses a few general principles on marketing and economics of organic tomatoes.
Evans, W. 2004. Bringing Up Tomatoes. Organic Gardening Magazine. June/July. p. 34-37.