January 2022

The Florida Weave: A Dance with Tomatoes and Twine

IMG_0006When I first started growing tomatoes, I bought those little conical tomato cages. Right from the start I began having problems with them. My tomatoes grew and grew and spilled over the tops of their cages, toppling them over. So back to the hardware store I went to get taller and sturdier tomato cages. But, since I grew indeterminate heirloom tomatoes which tend to grow long vines throughout the entire growing season, even the sturdiest, most heavy duty tomato cages still toppled over from the combined weight of plant and fruit.

I began reinforcing the cages. I planted tomatoes in a grid overlapping the cages slightly at the top. I pounded tall electrical conduit rods into the ground, weaving the rods through the overlapping cages which stabilized them and prevented them from falling. I further reinforced the mesh of cages by tying them together with the long thin bags that the daily newspaper came in.

And then I discovered a new way to trellis my tomatoes – the Florida Weave. I like that name. It sounds like the name of a dance – a dance for a gardener and her tomatoes using no cages, just stakes and twine.

I plant tomatoes IMG_0001about 18” apart in a row. Every two tomatoes, I pound in a wooden stake using a brilliant tool – a post pounder. At the ends of the rows, I pound in metal stakes at an outward facing angle.IMG_0003


When the tomatoes are about a foot tall, the dance begins. As with any dance, one needs the right attire. For this dance, instead of dance shoes, I use box of tomato twine. Twine comes out of the top of the box and the box  has belt loops for attaching to a belt.


I tie the twine to a stake at the end of a row. Then I walk down one side of the row, spooling twine out from the box at my hip, weaving the twine around a post, against the tomatoes, around the next post, forming a figure-eight with the twine and sandwiching the stems and branches of the each tomato plant between lengths of twine. Diagram_1


I tie off the twine back at the starting point and then wait for the tomatoes to grow some more. When they have grown another foot, I go back out to dance with the tomatoes again.


And so, as the tomatoes grow, I trellis them every foot or so with a weave of twine.

An added bonus of using the Florida Weave is that I no longer have to struggle with stacking bent tomato cages at the end of the season and finding a place for the accumulating stacks. I grow a lot of tomatoes and those stacks of cages were so very awkward. In fact, last year, I gave away all my tomato cages. At the end of the season, I simply cut away the twine, pull up the stakes, and store them in a corner of my garden shed.

While the Florida Weave is usually recommended only for determinate tomatoes, I have successfully used this method with my indeterminate heirlooms. I’ve also used the Florida Weave with other vining plants, such as peas. I love the simplicity and beauty of this trellising method and the routine of tending to my plants as they grow.


List after List: The January Ritual of Deciding What Seeds to Order

It’s January, and that means that I am starting to get new seed catalogs. There isn’t much to do outside in the garden this time of the year, which makes it a perfect time to start planning what I want to plant in the spring.

I do most of my ordering online, but I do most of my seed selection through those paper catalogs that come in the mail. I spend hours poring over my favorite catalogs.Seed Catalogs 2015

My new very favorite catalog is from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. This catalog meets my criteria of having a great selection of heirloom and organic seeds and being aesthetically pleasing. But, in addition, it features quirky photographs of Baker Creek employees in wonderfully weird  poses with vegetables. The catalog makes me smile every time I open it. It also makes me want to work there, except for the fact that I really don’t want to live in Missouri. Everyone looks like they are having so much fun!


As the winter progresses, my stack of favorite catalogs continues to clutter up the dining room table.


Catalog PageI peruse each page of each seed catalog armed with pen, highlighter, and sticky notes. I circle and star those seeds that I am interested in and highlight features that catch my attention: “bred for overwintering”, “frost hardy”, “an excellent keeping variety”, “dating back to 1880”, “grown from seed provided by our Belorussian friend”, “good disease resistance”, “takes the heat and keeps producing all summer”, “easy to grow”, “very unique”, “high in vitamin C”. As usual, I’m drawn the unusual: Oaxacan Green Corn, Blue Tomatoes, Scarlet Kale. Emmer Wheat. Turkish Orange Eggplant. Sticky notes go on pages that I particularly want to go back to.

In this first run through a catalog, I select anything and everything that looks interesting to me – much more than would ever fit in my garden. This first perusal is my time to be expansive and to dream big.

Eventually, though, reality hits. Even though I do have a large garden, it is not infinitely large. And my budget will not permit me to get everything that I have marked. So my second run through the catalog is a time to refine my selections. This is the time that I go through the catalog again, page by page. This is the time to start making lists. Until I make a list, I have no idea how many things have piqued my interest. Have I selected 20 seed packets or 200 seed packets? With random markings scattered in several 100–200 page catalogs, I have no way of knowing how expansive I’ve been.

First ListNow with my gardening journal and the seed catalogs next to me, I start writing down the list of seeds I want to purchase. Sometimes I have to make choices within a category: only one variety of carrot; only one variety of green bean, actually make that two varieties – one bush and one pole; lettuce  – one mix suitable for hot weather and one mix suitable for cold weather. For each item in my list, I note from which catalog and on which page number that item can be found. The list can be long, usually is long, usually still too long. I still need to pare it down.


At this point in the process, I make a second list – the list of seeds that I have left over from the previous year.


I keep my seeds in the basement, in my canning pantry, where it is cool. I bring the box with seed packets upstairs and begin cataloguing the seeds I have. Then, looking at both lists, the “I have” list and the “I want” list) I make yet a third list, the “I still need” list. By the end of this process, I have a much more manageable list.

The final step in the process is looking at the cost. Now I write down the prices for all those packets on my “I still need” list and bring out my calculator. Horseradish root? Too expensive. Purple tomatillos? Maybe I’ll wait on that – after all, the regular green tomatillos will undoubtedly have reseeded themselves (they usually do). Eventually I have narrowed my selections down. To spread the love around, I often buy from 3–4 seed providers. I make up clean, easy to read lists of what I am ordering, go to my computer, and begin the actual buying.

Coming next month: In February, when my seed packets start arriving, I will look at my seeds and my garden plans, and start planning where I will plant those seeds.