If you are a new vegetable grower looking at starting some essential salad crops – we can answer the common question of whether it is a good idea to use a net to grow tomatoes or cucumbers.
Having grown these juicy beauties for many years – we have tried lots of different ways – so hopefully the following article can really help you out with a few great tips.
Benefits Of Using Nets For Growing Vegetables
Generally the idea of using nets for growing any vegetables offers a really simple, cheap and easy way to neatly set things up. If you have climbing, tall or bushy plants – the idea of netting gives a sense of structure and control.
It also seems like a winner in terms of advance planning – we have all tried to wedge in last-minute cane poles to stop something falling over! Hopefully well-placed netting can prevent this completely.
There are many different types of nets available for different things. Plastic-based thicker nets taking more support with heavier fruits – which your cucumbers could most definitely be.
These hold their structure very well and you can tie up your stems at any point on the matrix. They also stay attached to their supports much more easily as they are more rigid overall.
Netting with larger ‘squares’ or a more-stringy appearance will allow for more flexibility of course, but the ‘sections’ in these can stretch with excess weight. Usually with these, we tie up plants at a cross-over point to stop them sliding around.
These looser nets also need many more attachment points around their edges – last thing you need as your fruits ripen is for the whole net to come away and collapse.
Growing Cucumbers with Nets
Depending on whether you are growing inside or outside – and in what climate – your indoor cucumbers will be growing a lot more wildly inside. And they definitely need a net – or some kind of frame.
Because cucumbers are a rambling plant – if you don’t give them something to go up on – they will run along the ground searching for something to climb up – including other plants. However, most often, these plants collapse under the weight of the plant and fruits.
Cucumber stems are very fragile with a thin outer ‘tube’ and a hollow centre. These stems don’t support weight at all on their own and are prone to snapping or bending – from which the stem never recovers – ending your cucumber dreams!
Cucumber plants often have a main runner – heading upwards. Wherever they can touch something with their tendrils – this main stem will keep growing. Most varieties retain this one single stem on each plant and it seems to ‘know’ when it has run out of support and stops shooting upwards. An adaptation to reduce breakage under their own weight?
It is best to wind your plants as they grow by making the tendrils touch the places you want it to go to next. Sometimes this means leaving them to grow out unsupported for a few days (loosely wrapping some twine around them to guide them) to get long enough to bend round. You really need to make sure you don’t over-stretch cucumbers during this process though as you might accidentally snap them.
Keeping them as low as possible with every foot of growth will work well for you. Not only does this make better use of your nets – but it will mean that you have more supported places to hold your fruit better. It doesn’t matter if the plants overlap each other slightly or curve up a bit before coming back down.
You want to make the most of every inch – they get real big!
Many cucumbers set plenty of fruit – up to 15 fruit per plant in some varieties – but more commonly 6-7. The female flowers (fruit buds) can appear anywhere along the plant’s length at any time – so if a fruit starts forming on the ‘other side’ of the netting, you want to try to bring it back through before it gets too big.
Growing Tomatoes With Nets
Just like cucumbers, tomato plants have very easy-to-break stems. Growing by themselves in perfect conditions they can support themselves and their fruits (if a medium to low-cropper). However, if they are lacking in strong direct light, exposed to winds, aren’t being fed or have a heavy crop – they can bend over and/or completely snap. Anything growing above the ‘bend’ will die.
However, tomato plants aren’t rambling – they can be large 3-dimensional upright plants. Using netting to support them can be more tricky – and will need more pruning and more twine. They are much better being supported with canes. Even low-growing plum tomatoes do better with canes – but make sure you choose the right height pole and sink it into the ground well. They are very difficult to re-adjust with the full weight of a heavy cropping fruit on them.
Plant your seedlings out depending on your variety and the amount of pruning you want to do. Avoid planting them more than 2 plants deep if they are against a wall or fence – as the fruit can be difficult to see and pick at harvest time.
Many people say pinch off any side shoots as they appear (although wait until they are definitely not a fruit bud first) leaving the main stem to reach full height.
This height is determined when several trusses have set themselves. How many trusses you choose depends on your variety – but also your growing style. Well fed plants in good (ideally dry) conditions can support all the trusses they set. You just need to take off extra leaves that block direct sunlight to the fruits.
However, if you have limited space, poor soil, a short growing season or very wet conditions – then cutting back is the best thing. By controlling the plant and reducing the pressure on it to grow endless fruits – you will allow whatever fruits it sets to grow bigger and more nutritiously. Blight (found in overly-wet conditions) will ruin your whole crop if it is all in the same bed. They always need fresh air between them.
If you are using nets – they would be best supported between strong poles at each end of the bed with the plants on either side and in alternating spots. Heavily prune the backs of the plants so the stem was close enough to the net to be secured and focus the trusses on the front of the plant. It can work, but maybe isn’t the easiest of options for newbies?