Monday, 26 May 2014

Josh builds sturdy tomato frames

Last year when Josh, Jessica's and Alex's old friend, AKA "the son I never had", came to visit the farmhouse he was helpful as always; consulting with me on roasting the grass finished beef so it wouldn't turn into shoe leather, unclogging the bathroom sink, moving furniture and a multitude of other jobs. But, clearly a masochist at heart, he proposed another project; to build me sturdy tomato frames that would not only last the whole season but which could be used year after year.

I had been building teepees out of bamboo stakes. Initially they looked somewhat orderly but by the end of the season, burdened by the weight of the vines of the indeterminate heirloom tomatoes, they often collapsed under the weight of the plants.
The frames I had previously fashioned just after the seedlings have been planted

People often propose helpful projects but it always seems best to let them take the lead in following through. A couple weeks ago Josh came over to get a few heirloom tomato and lettuce seeds. While he was here he mentioned the tomato frames so it was time for me to get excited. This past weekend it happened.

Josh came up late afternoon on Friday laden with table saw, appropriate tools and wearing his trusty Carhartt overall. Within minutes of his arrival he had set up in the garage, starting to cut the one inch supports for the tomatoes. He figured after a while that 3/4" would actually be fine. He cut the base of each vertical support into a spike for ease pushing into the ground. By now it was time for dinner; steak, mushrooms and red peppers and asparagus all on the BBQ, roasted blue potatoes and rhubarb crisp and 10% yogurt for desert. Then back to the garage for some after-dark cutting.
The table saw gets a workout. Josh properly outfitted with thick leather work gloves, safety glasses and ear protection
The supports go from being one inch in diameter to 3/4 inch
The pile grows
Each 2 by 4 is cut, initially into 4 pieces, then later 5
Safety first; Josh gives each piece a final push with another piece of wood
Not quite burning the midnight oil but it's definitely dark

On Saturday morning he explained the general design. There would be a vertical support at each end and a crosspiece horizontally laid across the top. Along each side there would be the one inch pieces screwed at an angle into the horizontal piece.

Then it was time to make the prototype in situ. We decided on a length for each frame, the distance between the pieces that would each have a tomato planted at their base and the distance between each frame.
The prototype!
Scylla inspects and gives a nod of approval

I had originally envisioned having the bed in the field dedicated to the tomatoes I am growing for the butcher shop I supply. The other tomatoes would be planted in part of a bed close to the garage. But Josh realized we had enough lumber to make six frames each supporting twelve tomatoes plants. Absolutely perfect because I have started 72 seedlings. And all the tomatoes will be in one spot, with the area by the garage available for more potatoes. Josh had figured it would take about 8 hours and it did. Time for a lingering lunch by the pool and then Josh left to go back in time for a party in the city. The tomatoes are hardening off on the deck this week readying themselves to be planted next weekend.
Halfway there
Done! Six frames each supporting twelve tomato plants

On Sunday morning Charlie dropped by for, as they say, a "chin wag". I took him out to the field to have a look at Josh's handiwork. He was suitably impressed! Josh and I had talked about taking them down each year, both to extend their life and also to accommodate crop rotation. Charlie's idea was to leave them there and rotate the crops using them; tomatoes, then peas and pole beans, finally cucumbers. They are tall enough that even with a little rot at the bottom after overwintering in the ground they could be driven further down each spring a number of times. Of course, while a great idea, that also assumes the willingness of Josh to come up and repeat the effort for next year's tomatoes…..
Not sure Josh will be smiling when I pass on Charlie's thoughts….


  1. Beautiful work and congratulations :)

  2. Wow! Well done to you and Josh. We sure are lucky to have such a great friend in our lives.