If I told you it is possible to grow three-story high tomato plants that aren’t some Frankenstein lab experient, would you believe me? This Alabama man’s giant tomato plants are legendary in the state and they are completely organic. This is how he grew them.
The Giant Tomato Plant Legend
Charles Wilber set a Guinness World Record in 1985 with his 28-foot-tall giant tomato plant carrying almost 400 pounds of tomatoes. His record has stood until 1999, with the plants bearing cherry tomatoes that weigh in at around 2.5 pounds each. (1, 2) The Guinness record is 65 feet! (3)
He had four of these giant tomato plants that brought in almost 1400 pounds of tomatoes in just one growing season. So how did he grow these plants to be so large and produce so much using entirely organic methods? The secret is out in Charle’s book How to Grow World Record Tomatoes.
5 Tips for Growing Tomatoes
Though his book is worth the read and goes into far greater depth about how he grew such monstrous plants, we’ve collected a few of his secrets here for you to get your feet wet with.
1. Pinch Suckers
“Suckers, if allowed to grow, become full-fledged stems, which in turn will send off more suckers, forking again and again,” he says in his book. “If these suckers are pinched off, the stem can be trained to grow straight up the cage.”
Suckers take energy to grow, just as the rest of the plant does. If you allow them to grow, they will take up valuable resources from the rest of the plant so that it can’t grow as tall or produce as many tomatoes. (2)
They usually grow in the corner between the leaf and stem, where you want to pinch them off to remove them. Just make sure that you are not pinching off the fruit clusters that grow directly off the stem, or you will be removing what should be your future tomatoes.
Charles advises to pinch suckers off with your fingers or tweezers instead of cutting them for easier plant healing, and to never let them grow beyond 1.5 inches. The longer they are when you remove them, the more traumatic the wound will be to the plant when you remove them.
2. Build Tall Cages
If you want your tomato plants to grow nice and tall, they will need something to grow on and support them. You most likely won’t be able to find cages tall enough to suit your needs, so instead you’ll have to do what Charles did: stack them on top of one another.
“The plant can climb to the top of the cage and then spill over and come back down, or a second cage can be set atop the first,” he writes.
He recommends using soft, 3-ply string to tie branches loosely to wires outside of the cages as they grow. This will allow for easier picking later.
3. Use Compost
He creates what he calls “super compost”. This consists of :
- Kitchen scraps
- Fresh manure
This mixture is then put in an air-tight container to preserve the most nitrogen possible. This is called anaerobic composting and preserves up to 90% of the nitrogen produced as the contents break down.
It’s best to set the compost in a sunny area so that it reaches 160°F. This will kill off diseases and any weeds seeds that may harm the tomato plants.
4. Water Type
Just as the cleanliness and chemical levels in water can affect human health, so can it affect the health of your tomato plants.
Charles recommends using pond water over the chlorinated and treated water that comes out of most of our taps. When watering, he says to cover a wide circumference around your plants. This is because the roots grow horizontally and extend much further than you might assume, reaching lengths of several feet long.
5. Weed Protection
When you are choosing to grow entirely organic plants, protecting them from weeds without using herbicides can be quite challenging. This is where ground cover can make a big difference.
Charles used tightly packed bales of hay, however, non-invasive perennials that don’t grow very tall, such as clover, could work beautifully here as well.
Do you think you have the tomato growing skills to finally break Charle’s 35-year-old record? If not, he has a book that tells all.
Happy giant tomato growing!