In this month’s issue of Currents Magazine, you will find our first article from Jersey Bites. The article is all about my father’s famous tomato plants and his use of a Japanese Tomato Ring back in the early 70’s. If you’ve never heard of a Japanese Tomato Ring, you’re not alone. For quite a while, I was convinced that my 7 year old mind had just concocted the whole idea. But, thanks to the Internet, I was able to confirm that there is such a thing as a Japanese Tomato Ring and much to my surprise, it has nothing to do with Japan. It was developed by a Southern postman in the late 60’s. For a full history of the story, you can click here.
In honor of my father who passed away in 2001 and to test my own ability to recreate his fabulous tomato plants, I have constructed my own tomato ring as you can see in these pictures. (scroll down for the latest pictures from Aug. My now 8′ tomato plants with my 6′ 1″ boyfriend). What I thought was going to be a fairly simple project was actually a back-breaker and took an entire day to complete. After one trip to Home Depot, one trip to the local hardware store and two trips to the local nursery, I had all the supplies I needed. Then the real work began. This “fun” “little” project required 6 bags of Humus and 12 bags of top soil in addition to a 10 lb. bag of fertilizer. These tomatoes better be unbelievable. Actually, according to the articles I’ve been reading, each plant is supposed to render 600 tomatoes EACH. Man, get ready for an avalanche of tomato recipes.
In searching for the “recipe” for the Japanese Tomato Ring on the Internet, I found several variations. Some insist you must have a ring that is 5 or 6 feet in diameter, some say 4 feet. Since I had just enough room for a 4 foot ring, the 4 foot ring philosophy won. I used the following recipe. Since I didn’t have compost and couldn’t find Cyprus Mulch, I used Humus. I hope it was a suitable substitution. I guess we’ll see. You can run a search on Google for “Japanese Tomato Ring” and find several “recipes.” Some recipes call for laying compost/leaves/compost. Others call for top soil instead of leaves. I think the basic idea is to create a very nutrient rich compost pile. The theory is that the tomato roots will search out the rich soil and grow up into the ring. You plant the tomato plants on the outside of the ring, right up against the fencing. As the plants grow, tie the plants right to the fencing.
Here’s My Recipe
5 metal garden stakes (5 feet in length)
10 feet of garden fencing 48” high. There were many choices at home depot and, shockingly, the man in the orange apron had never heard of a Japanese Tomato Ring and looked at me like I had three heads. I selected a plastic version because it was light and easy to carry. Original recipes called for “Farm” fencing. Couldn’t find this at Home Depot and I’m not sure what they mean by Farm fencing, chicken wire perhaps?
6 bags of humus (should add up to about 5 inches in depth.
12 bags of top soils (2 layers of 5 inches)
(1) 5 inch layer of leaves
(1) 10lb. bag of fertilizer. I purchased the organic garden fertilizer. A lot of recipes call for 10-10-10.
Measure out a four foot circle.Break up the soil within the circle.Plant stakes an equal distance from each other around the 4 foot circle. Attach the fencing, leaving one section open for access.
Start with a 5 inch layer of Humus, then a 5 inch layer of top soil.Sprinkle half of the bag of fertilizer on top of the soil.Layer a 5 inch layer of leaves on top of the fertilizer and finish with another 5 inches of top soil.Sprinkle 2/3 of the rest of the fertilizer on the top of the soil.Create a well in the middle of the soil pile to retain water.
Break up another 1 foot of earth on the outside of the ring.This is where you will plant your tomato plants.Plant only 4 plants. Water the young plants directly as well as water from the inside of the ring.As the plants mature, you should only need to water the inside of the ring.
There is a lot of information on the internet about Japanese Tomato rings. I even located a string on one of IVillages Message boards which had some good information from gardeners who have tried this technique. Some say it works great, others say it’s not worth the effort. Of course, I had to find out for myself. In the interest of science, I also planted one tomato plant the old fashion way in a different section of the garden. I’ll keep you posted with pictures as the season progresses. It’s going to be a long 60 days until the Early Girls show up.
These pictures were taken last week. So far, it looks like the Tomato Ring plants are in the lead. The Beefsteak tomatoes that you see here measured in at 20″ (Ringside) and 15″ (away from ring). You can also see the difference in color and overall health of the two plants.
I’ll keep you posted. The true test will be how many tomatoes each plant yields.
Update June 30. One month in the ground and our babies are going gangbusters. The Tomato Ring crop is huge and healthy. The plant we are tracking measures at approximately 45″. The “non ring” plant is 40″. In two weeks, both plants have grown 25″. It’s not really the height that shows the difference but the overall size of the plants. I think the picture below makes the point. But, take a look at the last picture for the results as of Aug. 7th.
These plants are now over 8 feet tall and covered with tomatoes. Very few red ones yet, but they’re starting.