At Cloud Mountain Farm Center, we grow about a thousand tomato plants each year in our high tunnels. All of the varieties we grow are indeterminate varieties, meaning they are varieties that continue to grow and produce over a long season, rather than setting all of the tomatoes at once.
Because of our cool summers and rainy falls, growing tomatoes inside high tunnels allows us to control the environment and get better production from our plants. We can lower the end walls and side walls of the tunnels to keep it warmer in late spring and in the fall, and we keep rain from spreading tomato blight diseases among the plants.
In order to maximize fruit and encourage early production and ripening, the tomatoes are planted at 12″ centers, and trained to only one stem each. Suckers from the leaf axils are removed on a regular basis, and the stem wound up a trellis string.
For the home gardener, planting tomatoes on 12″ centers could mean a lot of tomato plants. In a home tunnel, indeterminate tomatoes can be planted 18″-24″ apart and trained to 2 leaders rather than one. This means fewer plants to grow from seed or buy. The biggest difference is training an early, low sucker to be a second leader for the plant.
By pruning your tomatoes, removing the excess foliage, you direct the plant’s energy into setting flowers and fruit, and ripening that fruit sooner. You could also use 1 or 2 stout stakes and train leaders up those. There is also a product called a tomato spiral stake that works for single leader tomatoes.
These training methods are meant for indeterminate tomato varieties. There are a few “bush” type tomatoes, including some cherry and sauce varieties, that are determinate. These do not need the pruning and training that indeterminate types do, but your fruit will set and ripen all at once.