Last year I tried a new-to-me method for my tomato starts. Unfortunately, I moved and didn’t get so see the results of my experiment. This method has been recommended for either those who want to grow really strong tomato plants or those who end up with very leggy tomato starts. It is a method that utilizes an interesting feature of tomato plants. If you have a tomato plant and look closely at the stem you will see small, little bumps all along the length of the stem. If those bumps come in contact with the dirt, the tomato plant will send out a new root from each of the little bumps. Perhaps you have heard the phrase that you should “plant tomatoes up to their armpits” – meaning to plant them deep. The trench method goes a step beyond that to plant tomatoes in a trench, rather than just deep. Thus the name.
Start your tomato starts as normal, maybe a bit early to make sure the stems grow nice and long. You want to make sure that your plants have a decent length on the stem, which is why leggy plants work so well for this. When it is just a few days from planting time, take all of the lower leaves off the stem. Make sure and leave plenty of leaves near the top. Then take your tomato plants out to start hardening them off as you normally would but instead of setting them out upright, lay the whole planting cup on its side, so that the tomato is laying down on the ground. After a couple of days of being partially outside lying on their sides, the tomato will naturally turn and start growing up toward the sun. This is what you want. A long sideways stem, with a bit of tomato turning upward and growing up. When they are hardened off, you dig your trench. Not too deep (4 or so inches deep) that is as long as the main stem branching out away from where you want your plant to come out of the ground and you bury the whole stem in the trench (with your compost and epsom salts!) and just leave the bit of the tomato that had turned sticking up out of the soil.
The one thing to remember about trench planting is that you need to mark where your trench is so that later in the season when you start weeding you don’t accidentally sever your tomato’s strong root system with your hoe! Happy planting! If you happen to try this method, I would love to hear how it worked for you!