SPRING = TOMATOES: "TOMATOMANIA" and a DIY Trellis
Updated: Mar 4
SPRING IS ALMOST HERE!! In Southern California we’re already seeing fluffy pink and white blooms on flowering cherry and pear trees. And “TOMATOMANIA”, a local harbinger of spring for the past thirty years, opened last weekend. You may have heard of it: it’s a tomato seedling sale on steroids!
Amazingly, their 2021 offerings include over 200 varieties of tomatoes and dozens of pepper types. How to choose? It’s a crazy overload of abundance, making rational choices impossible, and impulse purchases the default. (Not saying that’s a bad thing when it comes to tomatoes, but we should all understand the game!)
Anyway, it may be early, and the soil isn’t quite warm yet, but all I can think about is planting summer veggies. And judging by the crowd at “TOMATOMANIA” last Friday, I’m not the only one!
I exercised extreme restraint though, and only bought four tomatoes and two Italian Sweet and two Shishito pepper plants (so far…). I went with Black Cherry (cherry tomato with sweet, smoky, rich flavor), french favorite Madame Marmande (2018 Tomato of the Year), Thorburn’s Terracotta (heavy producer with fantastic flavor, a 2020 Tomato of the Year), and Paul Robeson (sweet, earthy flavor, some consider this the best tomato ever).
It was tough, but I passed (for now) on a few that I really wanted because of their names: PigletWillie's French Black (2019 Tomato of the Year), Lava Flow (this year's award-winning variety), Dancing With Smurfs (seriously!, a black-red cherry), Bloody Butcher (deep red with intense flavor) and my favorite name: Mortgage Lifter, aka Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter (huge fruit, used by Marshall Cletis Byles in the 1940s to pay off his $5K mortgage). Who knew tomatoes could be delicious and amusing!
Last year we had six tomato plants. Even though we used cages and tied them up, after they grew into a six-plus-foot-tall jungle, they fell over, smothering all the peppers and herbs. So for this summer, rather than using round cages, I wanted something tall and flat that would span the length of our raised beds, providing better support and maximizing space.
I found a great online tutorial on how to build a tomato trellis that looks a bit like a large soccer net. Made of rebar and conduit, this thing will support not only tomatoes, but melons, beans, pumpkins—whatever. It’s attractive, pretty easy, cheaper than tomato cages, can be built any size you want and reused for many years. Plus, you get the satisfaction of a DIY project.
I made our trellises 7 ½’ wide x 4 feet tall. I wanted them taller but was limited by our roof overhang, which is 75” above the soil level. After I pounded in the rebar, leaving 24” sticking up from the planter, I realized that the maximum vertical clearance to slip the conduit frame over the rebar stakes was a very tight 51”. (Figuring that out entailed breaking a bulb on our outdoor lights and scraping the overhang with a conduit post. Aarghh!). To make the trellises fit I pounded the rebar a few inches deeper and cut the side posts a bit shorter.
Here’s what you need to build your own trellis, which costs under $25 for any size.
Materials for Each Trellis:
½” metal conduit (comes in 10-foot long pieces; you’ll have to cut it) (2 @$3.55 each)
4-foot pieces of ½” rebar (2 @$2.97 each)
90-degree elbows (½”) for EMT (2 @$2.78 each)
Nylon twine ($4.99)
Spray Paint (Painters Touch 2X Gloss) (Optional $3.98)
Conduit cutter ($12)
Here’s a link to the online tutorial I used:
The basic idea is that you assemble your three-sided trellis made of cut conduit, then slip each side piece of conduit over a rebar stake that has been pounded into the ground. Once the frame is in place, you use the twine to weave a net to support the plants. I decided to paint my two trellises yellow using one can of Painters Touch 2X Gloss, which gives good coverage and doesn’t require pre-priming.
Then I prepped the soil and popped my plants into the ground! Voila--we're ready for summer veggie season!
-Find out whether there’s a “TOMATOMANIA” sale near you: https://tomatomania.com/. The site also has lots of good info on growing tomatoes.
-Roger’s Gardens provides a list and short description of the different varieties: (https://www.rogersgardens.com/collections/tomatoes) as well as some livestreams for more detailed growing info (https://www.rogersgardens.com/blogs/live-streams/tagged/tomatomania)
-A great online source for purchasing tons of varieties of tomato plants and information on all things tomato is Laurel's Heirloom Tomato Plants: