Archive for the ‘Container Growing’ Category

Container Gardening and Tomatoes

Container gardening and tomatoes really do go together.  After all, you will still give the plant what it needs — good soil, plenty of water, fertilizer (organic or not) and lots of sunshine.

You’ll just be doing it in a different place.

Containers 101

You can’t just grab any old container and stick your tomato plant in it — as the old saying goes, “size matters”.  You need to consider the size of the plant versus the size of the container.  Typically, the container measurement will be in gallons.

Determinate Tomatoes in ContainersFor a determinate tomato, you can usually get away with a 5-gallon container, although a 7 gallon is nicer, if you can get one.  Since determinate tomatoes have a limited lifespan, they are usually smaller — and sometimes a lot smaller.   For the itty-bitty plants, you could even use a 3 gallon pot.  In the photo on the right are three of the smaller determinate tomatoes, which will only make it to about 2 feet high.  I have them in 5 gallon containers.

(For my bigger determinants I’ll go to 10 gallon containers.)

When it comes to the indeterminate plants, container size does make a difference, between a decent enough harvest and a good harvest.  Most indeterminate plants are pretty darn big (I’ve had Brandywines grow to 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide when I let them), so your container needs to reflect that.

For these hefty plants, I use containers anywhere from 15 gallons (for the smaller ones) up to 25 gallons for the Brandywine and Kellogg’s Breakfast tomatoes.

The Dirt on Soil

One of the downsides of moving to an all-container garden is that I have to buy a lot of soil.  Nope, I can’t just shovel what’s on the ground into my containers.  For one, I’d have a lot of big holes in the yard, LOL.  Second, it wouldn’t be great soil for the most part.  My compost pile won’t fill all the containers — what’s a gal to do?

And that is to drive on down to the lawn and garden center and buy lots of bags of compost and potting soil.  And when it turns out I made a bad choice in potting soil, I have to turn around and buy some perlite, vermiculite and/or sphagnum moss to amend my bad choice.

And when I get all those (very heavy) bags home, I still have to get that soil into the containers.  So yeah, it’s a pain to move from in-ground to container gardening all in one fell swoop.  But if you’re just trying out a couple of containers to get your feet wet, it’s really not bad at all.

What’s in Your Potting Soil?Celebrity Tomato

I have learned that not all bags labeled potting soil are created equal.  Some are really nice, others not so much.  What you have to remember is that your plants need to be able to drink and breathe.  It’s an important topic, so I have a whole separate post talking just about soil for container gardens.

Have you ever watered a planter that was filled with sand?  You know that maybe 15 minutes after watering it, the soil is dry again.  This means you need to increase the water-holding capacity of sandy soils.

What about a clay soil — water it, come back tomorrow and it might still be “clay soup”.  In this situation, you need to increase the drainage capability.

So, compost is first on my list of “necessary ingredients” in a good potting soil, because it can both increase water-holding for sandy soil, and help with drainage on clay-based soils.  However, compost alone might make the soil too heavy.  Enter perlite, which lightens the soil, to give the roots breathing room.

(BTW, perlite is a natural substance, as are its comrades vermiculite and sphagnum moss.)

My current favorite ready-made potting soil is from Vigoro, in the orange bags labeled as organic.  Very nice consistency, if a bit on the pricy side.  I don’t have to add anything to it — just pour it into the container and plant away!

Surprisingly, Miracle-Gro’s potting soil leaves a lot to be desired — it’s very heavy and the bags I got were full of sticks (not my idea of proper drainage).  I like most of their stuff, but the potting soil is low on my “buy again next time” list.  I have had to add perlite and sphagnum moss to lighten it up some.  Plus, I am not all that crazy about all the fertilizer they include in it.

Mixing Your Own

I think I’ll stop for now, since this has gotten fairly long, and write up a separate entry for ideas on mixing your own potting soil.  So until next time — keep on growing!

Growing Tomatoes – Fall 2014

Growing tomatoes in the Fall?  Well yes, if you live down here in South Florida.  We usually can’t grow much during the summer here, so we have a Winter/Spring and a Fall/Winter season.  While it does kinda mean I don’t have many garden-fresh tomatoes during the summer, it also means  that I have homegrown tomatoes in the winter.

And this year, I got a big surprise — a greenhouse!  I just put it up in time for Fall planting, so I’ll be making notes on how it works for keeping my babies warm when the temps make it down to freezing.  (Yes, even where I am in South Florida, we get freezes once or twice a year.)  It’s unheated, so I’ll be using passive heating in the winter.

Enough of that for the moment; let’s talk about what’s going into the garden!

Tomatoes for Fall and Winter

I will admit, I really slacked off this year on planting my seeds.  By the time August rolled around, I decided to get some plants from a big box store to augment my seeds.  Hmmm, it was a good idea, even if the first two plants (Yellow Pear and Solar Fire) bit the dust!

I am moving my garden to being all containers, and the first two locations I tried weren’t very good for tomatoes (oops).  The pots are really big and heavy (most are between 15 and 25 gallons), so tomatoes won’t be going back into them.  Instead, those will be lettuce and herbs, which seem to be happy there.

So here’s what’s coming up for this Fall and Winter for the rest of my containers!

  • Black Cherry:   This is a cherry tomato (as you might guess) and it’s black.  It’s the first time for me growing it, so I am anxious for the plants to get big enough to move to their permanent places in the garden.  These are supposed to be absolutely luscious!  Early season tomato, indeterminate.
  • Brandy Boy:  A new one on me (never heard of it before), and my guess is that it has a Brandywine and one of the “Boy” (Big Boy, Better Boy, etc.) tomatoes in the background.  Anyway, it’s supposed to be a more manageable plant (Brandywine gets awfully big!) and earlier as well.  Looking forward to see how this one grows — and tastes!  My guess is that it’s a mid-season tomato and indeterminate.
  • Oregon Spring:  I have been meaning to grow this one for several years, and have never gotten around to it.  This year seems like the time is right.  Early season tomato, determinate.
  • Manyel:  Also known as “Many Moons”, this is a yellow indeterminate tomato that is mid-sesason.  It’s supposed to be pretty tasty, but I will admit to an ulterior motive — I want to try a cross between Brandy Boy and Manyel.  You see, the color yellow is recessive, so if I make the cross and get red tomatoes…I know the cross worked.  And I have absolutely no idea what the progeny will turn out like (which is half the fun)!

I also have some Better Bush (determinate) and some Gregori’s Altai (indeterminate) plantlets.  Both are short-season. so I should get a nice crop in before Christmas.  (Or even by Thanksgiving for the Better Bush, since it’s way further along.)

And speaking of Christmas, that is when I have my next round of seed-starting.  I am thinking that Isis Candy Cherry, Pruden’s Purple, Arkansas Traveler and a bunch of my Manyel x Brandy Boy crosses.  But I’ll make the final decision in December.  😉

Can I Grow Cherry Tomatoes in a Container?

If you’re asking, “Can I grow cherry tomatoes in a container – successfully?” then the answer is yes – with a few small qualifications. Here’s what you need to know about growing your cherry tomato plant in a pot/container.

Growing Cherry Tomato Plants – Soil

First off, growing cherry tomato plants really isn’t any different from growing any other kind of tomato plant.  They all need direct sunlight (at least 6 hours a day), water and fertilizer (preferably organic).  A good soil to use in the container is a combination of compost and organic potting mix. (I like half and half myself.)

I’ve tried growing tomato plants in just compost  and in just organic potting soil, but I find that the two mixed together have produced the best growth.

Another option is to use compost mixed in with some sphagnum moss and/or perlite.

Don’t use soil from your yard in the container; it may compact easily in a container, and it’s quite possible there are unfriendly bacteria in it.

Container Size

What size of a container should you use for your cherry tomatoes?   Part of the answer depends on the variety of cherry tomato you plan to grow – determinate or indeterminate.  (Learn more about the difference between determinate or indeterminate on the tomato growing terms page.)

In general, determinate varieties are shorter and smaller than indeterminates.  Unless you are growing something like Micro-Tom (smallest tomato there is), the minimum size for a container should hold 3 gallons of potting mix/compost.  However, if you can manage a 5-gallon container, your tomato plants will thank you by providing more fruit.

Now for the indeterminate cherry tomato plants.  While I certainly have grown indeterminate cherry tomatoes in a 5-gallon container, they grow much better in a 10-gallon.  (I even have a few 20-gallon pots for the cherry tomato plants that get very large like Blondkopfchen.)  So, a 5 gallon container is the minimum, and a 10 gallon will have your plants thanking you. While I haven’t grown SuperSweet 100 in a container (yet!) I think it would work quite well.

Fertilizer for Cherry Tomatoes

The general rule of thumb for container growing is apply half as much fertilizer, twice as often.  I like to use liquid fertilizer that I dilute to half-strength, then apply it twice a month.

You need to fertilize more often in containers for two reasons.  First, what fertilizer you do use  gets washed out from the extra waterings that container plants need.  Second, your cherry tomato plant’s roots only have so much room to grow, and sooner or later, they will run out of space.  Since they can’t expand further, they need to extract everything they can from a limited area.

Which fertilizer to use?  I primarily use organic methods (compost, fish emulsion, kelp meal, Terracycle and Tomatoes Alive!), there are times of extremely rapid growth where I admit to using Miracle-Gro for Tomatoes.  While my in-the-ground-garden tomatoes get organic, I find that the container-grown plants do need a little boost at times.  Of course, that could be because I am in a hot climate.  You’ll have to experiment for yourself.

(You can also check out the posts I made about organic versus chemical fertilizers, as well as fertilizer components.)

Watering Your Cherry Tomato Plants

You really do want to put your containers where you have easy access to water.  Especially as they grow larger and the weather gets warmer, you will find that you’ll have to water often.  During warm and windy times, I have to water my containers daily — and there have been very dry times where I’ve needed to do it twice a day!

Try to keep the soil moist but not wet.  The more of an even moisture level of the soil, the less the chance your tomatoes will crack badly should a heavy rain arise.

A mulch will help to keep moisture in the soil longer.  I like to use an inch or two of hay, but I realize not everyone has easy access to it.  Other mulches can be bark chips, dried grass clippings, chopped leaves and even shredded paper!  (Just make sure the paper doesn’t have colored ink on it.)  In addition, some people also swear by red plastic for a mulch.

Can I Grow Cherry Tomatoes in a Container?

By now you see the answer is yes, you can successfully grow and harvest cherry tomatoes in a container.  With just a little preparation and attention, you’ll find yourself with tasty snacks that are good for you!

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Tomato Seeds

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