The correct spacing of tomatoes is determined by a combination of factors: convenience; soil fertility; soil type; pruning and the variety’s response. If any of that is unknown, it’s worth planting a small section at slightly different spacing to test the response for future plantings. Row spacing is largely based on the equipment, such as spray equipment, used to cultivate between rows. There would be an influence on yield if rows were made too close together, especially with taller-growing varieties. In the cooler season, the angle of the sun casts more shadow on the rows and this can effect yield. the case of staked tomatoes, one would generally not plant in rows less than 1,5m and not wider than 2m apart.
Non-staked tomatoes are more tricky and the influence of soil fertility and variety becomes more important. The time of year could also have an influence and growers could use wider spacing for the same variety in summer. In some cases it doesn’t influence the yield if you plant closer for non-staked tomatoes, but it would cost more to plant. Without measuring yield, one would be losing production potential if the plants matured and there was still space between rows. S unlight is an important factor, so any open space would indicate underutilised sun energy. Ideally, the crop should just close the gap with the last flower set. For those who have not planted non-staked tomatoes, be warned the practice is only successful in dry conditions. Too much rainfall results in a high incidence of disease, despite a thorough spray programme. It becomes impossible to spray foliage adequately when the plants are lying on the ground. Furthermore, fruit touching the soil in wet conditions start to rot.
Staking tomatoes require a capital outlay and a lot of labour, but not staking during the rainy season could cost you dearly. Being a high-value, expensive crop, it’s important to pay sufficient attention to spacing. The best way to do that is to do a few small trials and monitor what happens. The benefits could far outweigh the effort. Those who prune their crops could also decide whether to use one or two stems per plant. Using two stems could allow wider spaces in the row, which could be beneficial when using very expensive seed. Depending on the variety and conditions, two stems could influence fruit size, but not always. A starting point with all types is 30cm in a row. One can often go up to 40 cm, in certain circumstances, without yield loss. We can’t justify yield loss in an attempt to save money on plants, which is why spacing trials are important. Input costs are constantly rising more than market prices, making it important to consider every aspect in order to cut costs while getting a full production. – Bill Kerr ([email protected] or call (016) 366 0616) |fw