On a sunny June day Dylan Brady was in Clark Fork Organic’s humid hoop house in Missoula, trellising young tomato plants. He carefully chose the most promising stalks of each plant, chopped off the others, and attached the remaining spindly stems to a string hanging from the building’s ceiling. The fresh scent of ripe tomatoes filled the air despite the fact that it would be months before these plants produced fruit.
Dylan said stringing up tomatoes is one of his favorite activities on the farm. He wore a shirt printed with painted tomatoes for the occasion.
“It’s slow and methodical,” he said. “You’re taking these little tomato plants and helping them grow a certain way.”
Dylan has worked at Clark Fork Organics since August 2020. This summer he’s co-managing production under farm owner Kim Murchison.
Farmers string up tomato plants because they are bushy and floppy if they aren’t pruned and trellised. Dylan said pruning helps tomato plants focus their energy on producing fruit and growing upward, rather than pushing out bushy stems and leaves.
As he worked Dylan held soft young tomato leaves and stems in his hands. His fingers turned light green, then deep black as the plants shed onto his skin. Later, when he washed his hands, a soft green coating remained.
Training the plants to grow vertically keeps the hoop house tidy and makes it easier to care for the plants. Fewer stems also mean better airflow around the plants, which can reduce the risk of disease. The way Dylan trellised the young plants will determine what they look like and how much fruit they produce later in the growing season. He likes that sense of guiding the plant’s destiny.
“It’s a beautiful, almost artistic outlet in farming,” he said.
Dylan will keep pinching off the less promising stalks (often called suckers) and coaxing the plants to grow vertically along the string as the season goes on. In late summer the plants will stretch toward the ceiling of the hoop house. Juicy ripe tomatoes will hang from the vines. Dylan imagines those future days as he works with the young plants.
“While I’m trellising, I’m full of anticipation for summer,” he said.
You can find tomatoes, salad mix, and many other organic vegetables grown at Clark Fork Organics in Missoula and around the state. The farm sells produce to the Good Food Store, Western Montana Growers Cooperative, restaurants throughout the Missoula area, and directly to consumers through a farm stand on the property. Kim Murchison started the farm in 1992.