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To Pinch or Not to Pinch

June 14, 2013

Agriculture is a tricky business. There are so many variables. The weather is a constant challenge. Too hot causes problems. Too cold can cause even more. Seems like one day you’re begging the clouds to let down a little rain, and a few days later you’re demanding that they stop this wet nonsense. There are pests, parasites, and predators to contend with. And as if those weren’t enough challenges there are a hundred different opinions out there on how to deal with all the challenges.

I’ve gardened for years. We had a large garden when I was growing up. I had my own garden at just about every place I lived after leaving home. Sometimes it was only in containers, but I’ve always loved nurturing plants and watching them grow. Often I would hear or read something in passing about pinching the suckers on tomatoes. It wasn’t something we ever did when I was growing up, and I really did not know what it meant. So, I didn’t do it.

Last year I came across a post on an acquaintances blog, Spotting a Sucker, that clearly explained pinching the suckers. I thought to myself, “That is simple. Why haven’t I done this before?” And I merrily pinched away all season long. We had a bounty of big beautiful canning tomatoes, and happily filled our pantry with tomato juice.

Then this year, actually in preparation to write a post about pinching suckers, I did a little research. Do a google search “pinch tomato suckers.”  The results show up with about a 50/50 split. To pinch, or not to pinch, that is the question. Some argue that it is unnecessary, and that those suckers will grow into producing stems of their own. That the extra stems will increase photosynthesis, production, and the flavor of your tomatoes. The other side argues that pinching is necessary to create on strong main stem. They say reducing the dense foliage  increases air circulation which help reduce disease. Both sides claim to get better results! What is a gardener to do?

I suppose if I wanted to be scientific about the whole thing, I’d pinch one row and not pinch the row beside it. Then I’d weigh the production, and then use those results to decide. I don’t see myself taking the time to do that. Plus, I have one other little concern. My seven year old daughter.

I have taught her how to pinch the suckers. It is her absolute favorite job (the only one she’ll volunteer for) in the garden. No matter what the rest of us our doing in the garden, you’ll find her in the tomato rows looking for “the suckers in the arm pits” and happily pinching away. She takes pride in the job and every now and then will hold up a big sucker and exclaim, “How did I miss this one?!” That to me is priceless!

So fellow gardeners, do you pinch or don’t you pinch? Around here we’ll be pinching, as a long as the seven year old is on the job.

Stephanie Appleton is a small farmer in the hills of West Virginia. Find more of her family’s adventures at her blog, Adventures in the 100 Acre Wood.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 14, 2013 8:12 pm

    I am pinching like mad this year, suckering all the indeterminate tomatoes and suckering the determinates up to the first bloom then I will let them spread. I didnt get to last year and my tomatoes went to all vine.
    Good luck with yours.

    • stkappleto permalink*
      June 14, 2013 10:18 pm

      I didn’t know determinate or indeterminate made made a difference whether to pinch or not. The bulk of mine are indeterminate. Good thing Vivian is on the job. 😉 Learning new things all the time. Do you stop at first bloom with a determinate to encourage more top production?

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