Q. The planting configuration and spacing in Let’s Grow Tomatoes is much different than what is recommended in other places, such as The Mittleider Gardening Course and The Garden Master. Why are they so different, and which is “right” or better?
A. There are several reasons for the different tomato plant spacings recommended in the Mittleider materials. His 9 books were written over 25 years, and were based on his experiences in different situations and locations around the world. The changes reflect his increased experience – with plants, Soil-Beds, Grow-Boxes, greenhouse v.s. garden and field production, and people.
Let’s Grow Tomatoes teaches how to grow tomatoes in Grow-Boxes that are 5 feet wide, with the plants 6 or 7 inches apart in rows 28 inches apart going across the width of the beds. A few years of experimentation showed Dr. M. what he now considers an easier and/or better way to grow them.
The 5-foot width made it difficult for people to reach all the way into the middle to prune, feed, water, and pick, and so he now recommends boxes no more than 4 feet wide. In that format, planting rows lengthwise has advantages, including easier pruning, feeding and picking, and the ability to automate the watering process.
Another factor that influenced the changes is that the close planting recommended in Let’s Grow Tomatoes requires regular and accurate pruning in order to allow adequate light into all the plants. Dr. M. found that this was not being done consistently or properly, and the yield suffered.
He now recommends planting from 8 to 12 inches apart (depending on the grower’s experience and commitment to pruning), and he only plants two rows of plants in a 4 foot wide Grow-Box. Light to the plants is assured by guiding alternating plants in each row up strings to 2 rows of wire or pipe that are strung the length of the beds on the top of T-frames.
Yields are generally better using the new methods, the T-frames cost less than stakes or A-frames and are permanent, and the time and effort are reduced.
I highly recommend following the methods described in The Garden Master software CD and The Mittleider Gardening Course book, both available at www.growfood.com.