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Back yard tomato grower has skills to share

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Sunnyside hobby farmer Martin Castro takes pride in the tomato plants he trained to grow vertically this summer, which allowed him to harvest fresh fruit despite having only a small garden area with which to work.

You can train a dog to fetch a newspaper, or train a child to chew with his mouth closed...but train a tomato plant to grow upright in a hemmed in garden space that won't accommodate a sprawling plant?

According to Martin Castro of Sunnyside, tomato plants are every bit accepting of the notion to grow skyward. They just need a helping hand, he said, a personal trainer, so to speak.

Castro illustrated his training skills this summer, lovingly nurturing and working with a couple of tomato plants at his Willow Apartments home on Saul Road. The plants he tended not only grew vertically in the tight back yard spot he had access to, but produced a nice crop of fruit.

The notion of getting tomato plants to grow upwards instead of horizontally along the ground isn't a new idea. But the practice is one that isn't utilized all that often around here.

Castro said he learned the art of training tomato plants about 40 years ago, while working with Japanese farmers in California fields. He said the training of the plants includes pruning them, much the same way an apple tree is pruned. Properly positioned wooden props and string, resembling a trellis, are also needed to get the vines to grow skyward.

The Sunnyside back yard farmer is hoping to pass on the skills he has learned to other gardening enthusiasts. Speaking through an interpreter, Castro said he will readily make himself available to anyone interested in learning the craft he has worked to perfect over the years.

"No charge...for free," he said in broken English. He added that he would simply like for others to know how to train tomato plants to grow in tight garden spots, so they, too, can enjoy the experience of growing their own tasty treats.

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