Ever since I saw tomatoes growing in a greenhouse that had a suspension system to hoist them up, I’ve wanted to do something like that. I’ve also been wanting to make a structure using Starplate connectors. This year the two ideas came together to create a tomato suspension dome.
The Starplate kit is just 11 metal plates that accept 2-by-3s or 2-by-4s on edge, like so:
I used 8-foot 2-by-3s. Around the edge of the pentagonal base I planted peas, pole beans, and morning glories. Inside, it was all tomatoes and basil. Although I used indeterminate vines, they didn’t reach as high as I’d imagined. So I never had to climb a ladder to pick tomatoes.
The big question in my mind was how to hoist the tomatoes. I ended up putting eyehooks into the upper struts, spaced about 18″ apart, and running string through them to form concentric pentagons descending from the peak. Then I could toss the weighted end of a string up and over to make a pulley anywhere in the enclosure.
Here’s the suspension method:
- Wrapping a loop of tomato velcro around the vine
- Tying one end of string to the loop
- Running the other end up over a skyhook, down through the loop, and back up six inches or so
- Hoisting the vine
- Tying the end into a slipknot around the pair of strings
Every couple of weeks, as the vines grew, I’d detach the collar, raise it up, reattach, and hoist.
The peas and beans did OK, but were happier in other parts of the garden. The tomatoes rocked. I’m not ambitious enough to do any real canning, but here’s one happy outcome: 6 quarts of fresh salsa and a couple of gallons of juice infused with jalapenos, serranos, and poblanos.
Another outcome: oven-dried tomatoes. These are just like sun-dried except they only take 12 hours in the oven at 200 instead of days in the sun.
The salsa was a ton of work but oven drying is dead easy. I’ve got a lot more tomatoes still to come, and this the future for many of them.
Things to do differently:
- Start the morning glories sooner. When the peas and beans didn’t cooperate, I wanted another use for all the height I’d created, but the morning glories got a late start.
- Abandon netting. Part of the problem with the peas and beans was that I hung netting for them to climb. Bad idea. Next time, I’ll just dangle a bunch of strings.
- In late winter, dump in manure to generate heat and enclose with plastic to create a greenhouse.
Is this really practical?
Probably not. If you’ve ever been bitten by the dome bug, it’s just something you have to get out of your system sooner or later. Domes are preposterous structures, really, as Stewart Brand pointed out hilariously in How buildings learn. There’s a reason why we build rectangularly: You can use standard materials, you can expand outward, you can use interior space efficiently. Domes create big structures from small amounts of material, but they’re not very practical structures. There are surely easier ways to hoist tomatoes. Still, it’s been fun!