Realization Of The Day:
Although I've written two posts about the scary super trim I gave my two Arkansas tomato plants (click here), I never actually described exactly which leaves were the "useless" ones I cut off. This would have no doubt been helpful, especially since the experiment was a success. So here goes.
An added benefit to thinning your tomato plants is that it enables you to create order from chaos (and show me one gardener who doesn't have a chaos problem in their garden). A tangled mass of leaves and vines can become a neat and manageable plot in mere minutes.
This is especially helpful if you have yet to cage or otherwise stake up your plants. And if they're growing quite close together (like mine always are because every year I insist on cramming way too many tomato seedlings into each 4' x 8' raised bed), thinning out the leaves will allow for better airflow between the plants.
Despite the abundance of sprawling, uncontrollable, cageless tomato plants currently growing like mad in my garden (what, you thought I showed you everything out there?), my tomato trimming days are pretty much over for the season. Due to heat-zapped brain cells—along with no desire whatsoever to spend any more time out in the blazing sun than absolutely necessary—I blow off a lot of garden stuff in August) But I'm sure there are some of you who are up to the challenge.
Although I have always figured that trimming the "useless" leaves would be more beneficial before they got very big—since you're trying to help the plant expend less energy growing them—as you can see in the original post, my Arkansas Travelers were quite mature when I took the scissors to them. They were even loaded with full-size fruits.
Okay, so this is all you have to do. Look up at the tomato plant in the top photo. Starting from the bottom, I count five side shoots coming off the main vertical stalk. Can you see that the 2nd shoot has several side shoots growing from it, but the 1st, 3rd, 4th, & 5th shoots are really just single large leaves? (You can click on the photo to enlarge it.)
Those are the ones that need to go. They are basically doing nothing except making you wait longer for your ripe tomatoes. Who needs that? Grab the scissors!
So how do you know for sure that you're cutting off the right leaves? Check out this close-up photo. Can you see the tiny leaves sprouting out of the main stem right above the shoot on the bottom right? (Again, you can click on the photo to enlarge it.)
Those tiny leaves are hoping to grow into fruit producing branches. Cut off that big useless leaf below them and help them out! There will almost always be useful growth literally right on top of the useless leaves. The size of that growth will vary. Sometimes it will be much larger than this.
And that's all you need to know. Except that I've found that regular old scissors work the best when tomato leaf trimming. For years I simply used my fingers and fingernails to snap off the leaves. But when you're dealing with dozens and dozens of stem snaps, this gets real old real fast. Plus if the leaves are thick, sometimes it doesn't work right.
This year when half my leaves started to bend instead of snap like I wanted them to, I pulled out my sharp little pocket knife and had one of those Oh my god, why haven't I been using this all along? moments. Then the knife thing started getting old, especially when I found I was often peeling away part of the trunk along with the leaf. Plus I slit a couple of fingers (not badly).
So then I had an even more brilliant idea and switched to scissors, which was same the day I launched the attack on the Arkansas Travelers.
Oh, and the only other thing you need to be aware of is that this is one of tasks where it is very easy to get carried away. But I think I've already made that quite clear.
From Garden To Table:
Well, not table--more like fridge and freezer. Pesto! Most of my basil is blooming (already?), but I found a large and lovely plant this morning that still had big fat leaves and no flowers on it. I just turned 14 ounces of basil leaves into two different pestos. One has been spooned into an ice cube tray and is in the freezer. The other is in the fridge waiting to be used in a new tomato recipe I've just created in my head and hope to make tonight or tomorrow. If it's a success, I will definitely share it. (Update: You'll find my favorite Low Fat, Full Flavor Basil Pesto Recipe, made with roasted almonds and fresh tomatoes here. The best pesto I've tasted was made with purple basil; read all about it, plus find an easy white bean pesto spread here.)
One of these days I'll also share how I make inexpensive homemade tomato cages that beat the storebought varieties I've tried hands down, because they actually keep my giant tomato plants up! Soon (I hope).
In the meantime, a question:
Does anyone have experience using basil or making pesto from blooming plants? I know I've just cut off the flowers and used the leaves many times (because I am always, always late making my pesto), but since I usually just make super strong pesto that I freeze and toss into pizza sauces during the winter, I've never bothered to see if the leaves taste a lot stronger or are bitter or whatever once the plants are blooming. You know, like how the taste of arugula changes so much once the plant matures and starts to bolt (click here and look for my comment).
I do know that, like arugula, the shape of my basil leaves totally changes as the plants mature: from rounded, smooth, and 'soft' looking to smaller, sharper, and more textured. I don't know why, but it always amazes me when that happens.