Tomatoes in the Garden
Tomato garden tour video for mid-June 2020 is what’s on today’s post. I want to do tomato garden tour videos every couple of weeks, so you can see what’s growing. I’m growing tomatoes in Tennessee zone 7A, and it’s way different from growing in S Florida!
Growing Tomatoes in Containers
Growing tomatoes in containers is what I have to do in my garden. I explain why in my first tomato garden tour done at the end of May. I find that it’s working pretty well for me. The shade is my biggest enemy when it comes to my gardening. That’s why I have three gardening spots in my yard — no one place is big enough.
Growing Tomatoes in Tennessee
I have to say, it’s much different from S Florida. Instead of two short seasons, I have one long season (mid/late April to mid/late October).
Here in Tennessee it’s frost which defines my seasons; in S Florida, it was the heat and humidity (not to mention hurricanes). It’s my first summer garden here in East Tennessee, and I keep getting told that it does get really hot and humid. However, late last August when we moved here, we had record heat and humidity.
What they call heat and humidity here was nothing more than late Spring weather in S Florida.
Growing tomatoes (peppers and other assorted veggies) is different here. You’ll see from the difference between my first tomato tour and this one, how much it’s grown. In just two weeks!
The biggest problem I have here is the shade in my yard. The trees I so loved in the fall are the bane of my gardening existence now. Which is kind of ironic since in S Florida I had to use a shade cloth.
Tomato Garden Tour Video
I made this tomato garden tour video on June 14th, 2020. The previous tour was on May 30th. I can’t wait to film my next one, somewhere around the end of June — I’m sure I’ll have many more tomatoes to show you.
Just wait until you see Vorlon — that plant is outgrowing stake after stake. I’m beginning to wonder what else I can do for this plant. And it’s growing in a…7 gallon container I think — or maybe 10 gallon. Either way, I never thought it would get this big in a not-so-big container.
All this being said, here’s my tomato tour video for June 2020. Hope you enjoy it, and keep a lookout for my next tour! (And if you want to see more garden tours in general, check out my YouTube channel.)
Tomato garden tour time! I have a tomato garden tour video for you, which I filmed at the end of May, 2020. I decided that it was time that I start doing videos of the tomato garden, to you can see what growing tomatoes in Tennessee is like for me.
A few things, though. I started all my tomato plants from seed, and I grow all of them in containers of various sizes — all the way from 1 gallon to 10 gallons. I almost broke down and bought a SunGold tomato start from Home Depot, but didn’t since I already had a few too many seedlings at home, waiting for a container. 😉
Growing Tomatoes in Containers
There are two main reasons I have for growing tomatoes in containers. First, the soil in my yard is rocky and hard clay, and I literally have to use a pick axe to dig a hole. (I have planted a few things in the ground, but they have all been flowers or herbs, and a good portion of them perennials.)
My second reason for growing tomatoes in containers is that I have a shade problem. There isn’t any spot in my yard that gets 6 hours of direct sun a day, except for maybe a small slice in the front. Six hours of direct sun is the minimum needed for fruit-bearing veggies, but growing tomatoes in containers allows me to move plants around to maximize the sun I do get.
(I’ll do a video and post on semi-shade gardening in the future and will link to that when I have it up.)
In any case, I have three different garden areas in my yard — front, side and back — to let me grow as many tomato plants as I can, based on the amount of sun I get in the spaces.
Tomato Garden Tour Video
As I mentioned before, this tomato garden tour video is the first of my tomato-growing season in Tennessee zone 7A. This is my first year for growing tomatoes in Tennessee as opposed to Florida it’s waaaaay different! It’s not only the soil (sandy in Florida), but the heat and humidity (less of both). Plus, since I had to start my garden in February in S. Florida I was pretty much finished by June. Here in Tennessee…June is just barely the start of the growing season!
I filmed the tomato garden tour on May 30th, 2020. Here’s the video, and I hope you like it! I’ll likely have even more tomatoes in the next tour, as I still have seedlings that need to be planted out — so stay tuned!
My tomato garden in 2020 has had a wild ride since February. Between my (mostly failed) hydroponics try, a surprise snow, an unpleasant discovery about trees and seeds that either didn’t sprout or didn’t thrive, I’ve had to make lots of changes. So now that it’s May, what’s really growing in my homegrown tomato garden?
Tomato Varieties in the Garden
I’ve started tomato seeds from a lot of different varieties, but not all have sprouted and thrived. Some were definitely due to user error (mine), some seemed to be issues with the seeds themselves. For example, I planted six seeds of Red Robin, but only 1 sprouted — go figure. But, here’ a list of what I have in the garden, or are within a couple of weeks from going into their final place in the garden.
- Vorlon (which I have nicknamed “Kosh”)
- Blue Beauty
- Girl Girl’s Weird Thing
- Alice’s Dream
- Red Robin
- Earl’s Faux
- Stormin’ Norman
- Tennessee Yellow Cherry
- Dwarf Arctic Rose
- Dwarf Wild Fred
- Sleeping Lady
- Red Brandywine, Potato Leaf
- Unlabeled dwarf (might be BrandyFred, but not sure yet)
- Cherry Princess Sweet Surprise
Who’s Doing What?
The first four to go outside were Red Robin (miniature early determinate), Vorlon, Blue Beauty and Girl Girl’s Weird Thing (all mid-season indeterminates). They went outside far too early, but in the case of Vorlon, Blue Beauty and Girl Girl’s Weird Thing (which I will abbreviate GGWT), I had to rescue them from a failed hydroponics experiment. And also, I am still trying to find my way growing in Tennessee versus Florida — in late February, my Florida tomato garden was fully planted. So, I jumped the gun — my bad.
Before I tell you how they are all performing, I will say this — next year, I won’t be starting my seeds in late January, because they are ready to go outside by mid-March, and it’s just too chilly for them to thrive. The seeds I planted in March have done the best overall, since we didn’t get really stable weather until late April. (Even then, we got s surprise late freeze in early May, three weeks after our last average frost date.)
Vorlon is the tallest by a fair amount, but GGWT wins the prize for overall size — it’s grown up and out. Blue Beauty is wimpy as a plant, but it’s got more open blossoms than the other two combined. However, for all three of these plants — they started setting out blossoms before the May freeze, and all the blossoms aborted. The second set for each all failed. They are now all in flower and crossing fingers, they will set some tomatoes this time. I guess that is what happens when you try to plant out too soon!
Alice’s Dream and Stormin’ Norman are in the process of creating a large number of blossoms — and they were some of the early March seed starts. Tennessee Yellow Cherry also has a good number of flower buds forming.
Earl’s Faux is a little slow when it comes to flowering, although it’s starting to form buds. It was a mid-February seed start, so it had more cold weather to contend with. I have to admit though — it’s a beautiful plant!
Jochalos is starting to blossom, as is Dwarf Arctic Rose. My unlabeled dwarf tomato is also starting to form buds.
The rest (Dwarf Wild Fred, Sleeping Lady, Aussie, Red Brandywine Potato Leaf and Cherry Princess Sweet Surprise) are a couple more weeks from being ready to be set out into their final garden spots — they were the last sets of seeds I started. I’ve potted them up at least once (twice in the case of Dwarf Wild Fred), but they are in the holding spot — dappled sunlight for a few hours then full sun for another two or three hours.
Some varieties I only have one plant, but some I have multiples. I ended up with three Earl’s Faux, two Alice’s Dream, two Stormin’ Norman. I also have two Aussie (although one might not make it) and a second Tennessee Yellow Cherry. I thought I was losing the older Tennessee Yellow Cherry to the cold, so I started a new seed. Surprise — the original one made it through the rough weather. Hmm, I think I may have two Red Brandywine Potato Leaf plants as well.
I did not grow Pink Brandywine this year. It’s a luscious tomato, but it never produced really well for me when I was in Florida. However, I decided to give Red Brandywine Potato Leaf a try, and see what happens.
So What About the Trees?
This is another thing I’ve had to learn the hard way. In South Florida, our trees never dropped leaves, and also I knew about how many hours of sun the various parts of our yard got, even allowing for changes in the sun’s angle during the year.
Here in East Tennessee, I discovered that my main garden area was getting shaded out when the trees started leafing out. What started out as six hours of full sun dwindled to maybe three hours at one point, with some dappled shade for perhaps another hour. Thankfully, the sun’s angle has changed enough so that the area gets a couple of hours of dappled shade and a little over four hours of direct sun. Not as much as I really want, but our yard is so full of trees I am having to make do.
I did find two other spots that receive about six hours of full sun through the course of the day, so I have more tomatoes there. Plus some peppers, beans, cucumbers, squash and assorted other herbs and flowers.
I also discovered that there is a family of rabbits somewhere nearby, as well as some dastardly squirrels and a chipmunk. Since all my plants are in containers, the bunnies haven’t been a problem yet. Not sure what’s going to happen when the cukes start to trail over the sides.
Definitely not sure what the squirrels and chipmunk will do, when faced with the temptation of garden fruit. Good or bad, I also have some hot peppers which are planted amongst the various tomatoes and other plants. I also discovered that squirrels do not like the smell of peppermint (story for another time), so I have several types of mints and fragrant herbs scattered around as well.
You’ll just be doing it in a different place.
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.
For 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.
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.
Yes, you can grow indeterminate tomato plants in smaller containers; but when you have a big plant, anything smaller than 12 gallons will definitely sacrifice some tomato production.
With the exception of indeterminate dwarf tomatoes — you can go with a 7 gallon container, and even a 5-gallon for a smaller dwarf.
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 person 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?
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!
I just had to share this photo. I finally was able to pick my first beefsteak tomato of the season (Big Beef) and it’s gorgeous! The photo doesn’t give you an indication of size, but it’s a double-handful. My guess as to weight is just about 1 lb. You can click the photo for a bigger photo.
Picked This Week
I was able to pick quite a bit this week. Husky Cherry Red produced quite a few very sweet cherry tomatoes. I’m afraid they never make it to the house, as I tend to snack on them in the garden!
Juliet also had two ripe grape-shaped tomatoes. I haven’t tried them as yet, but I am hoping they are more flavorful this year.
Better Bush had several ripe tomatoes this week, and I see more that are ripening. The plant does look rather sad, but I am waiting until I have all the tomatoes harvested before removing it. It’s a determinate anyway, so it’s really given me most of this year’s harvest.
The one that I am most excited about – aside from my lovely Big Beef – are my Black Cherry tomatoes. I picked three of them today and they very much live up to their reputation. They are very sweet — almost like eating a piece of fruit. Which is of course appropriate, since technically tomatoes are fruits (berries, actually)
A Funeral This Week, Too
I pulled out one of my Isis Candy Cherry tomato plants — one of the big bushes. All the sudden it started looking…weird. It wasn’t the water problem, but I really didn’t like the looks of things. And since I have several more of the variety planted, I can afford to lose one.
And Coming Up
I have my seedlings for Rapunzel and Indigo Cherry Drops getting ready to go out to my new shade house. Loxahatchee (which I planted much later) still needs to spend some time under the grow light before I put it out in the shade house (i.e., my former greenhouse).
The shade house is where I will put some of my tomatoes, peppers and orchids. Part of my problem in my summer garden is that the sun is just way too strong — the plants don’t stand a chance come midday. The heat is also a problem. Well, the shade house will help with those problems immensely.
I’ll do some separate posts regarding the shade house and the grow light that I’ve been trying out. The grow light is rather exciting, because 1) I have never had such beautiful seedlings when growing on a windowsill (even a south-facing one). And 2) the grow light was really inexpensive, and I didn’t need any special setup.
So, that’s it for now — catch you later with more updates!