How to Grow Organic Tomatoes in Containers
A vegetable garden is never complete without growing tomatoes. Growing tomatoes in your garden is very easy and rewarding as it opens a whole new world of tomatoes.
There are 400+ varieties of tomatoes. he varieties differ in the following ways
- Fruit Shape (E.g Cherry tomato, san marzano)
- Fruit Color ( Yellow cherry, Black Prince)
- Fruit Size/Weight ( Beefsteak tomato, 100s and 1000s)
- Plant growing habit ( Indeterminate & Determinate)
And there are two varieties of tomato plants to grow,
- Indeterminate plants (Vining) – They grow very tall and need staking, produce more fruit than Bushy plant.
Recommended Indeterminate Tomatoes: ‘Carmello’, ‘Carmelita’, ‘Stupice’, ‘Early Girl’, ‘Jewel Enchantment’, ‘Matina’, ‘Green Zebra’ (Salad Tomatoes). ‘Sweet 100’, ‘Sungold’, and ‘Black Cherry’ are good cherry varieties for growing tomatoes in containers.
- Determinate plants (Bush) – They grow 3-4 feet in height, suitable for container gardening but they set fruit all at once and then they are done.
Recommended Determinate Tomatoes: ‘Patio’, ‘Celebrity’, ‘Gil’s All-Purpose’, ‘Oregon Spring’.
Tomatoes can be grown in the following ways:
- Growing tomatoes from Seed
- Growing tomatoes from Transplants
- Growing tomatoes from Stem cuttings
Growing from transplants is the easiest option and a time-saving one too. You can get good quality tomato plants that are disease resistant and hardy from your nearest garden centers.
For those, who cannot get pre-grown transplants, growing tomatoes from seed is the best way. Not only it is economical, it also gives you wide variety of seeds to choose from.
Growing tomatoes from seed
First and the most important part of growing tomatoes from seeds is to get good quality seeds.
Whether you want to plant the tomato in container or in the ground, the procedure to growing tomatoes from seed remains the same. However, you might want to choose the variety based on where you are going to plant them. For growing tomatoes in containers, determinate is a better choice.
The biggest mistake people make when growing tomatoes in containers, is planting them in too small a pot.
Tomato plants are large plants with deep roots, and if you keep them in small pots you get bonsai tomatoes, or dead plants.
The minimum pot size for growing tomatoes is 5 gallons (27 cm).
You need the large pot–and large soil volume–to hold enough moisture so the plant won’t die if you fail to water it 3 times a day. Plants that dry out get stressed, and plants that get stressed have lower yields, pick up diseases, and attract pests.
Grow bush (determinate) tomatoes in 5-gallon (27 cm) pots.
Grow bush (indeterminate) tomatoes in 10-gallon (45-50 cm) pots.
When to plant tomatoes
Tomato plant is a sun loving plant and can tolerate good amount of heat.
In the tropics, tomato seeds can be planted / sown around the year.
If you are in the temperate weather, you can start the tomato from seeds indoors about 5-6 weeks before the last frost. Check your local sowing schedule for the right planting dates.
However, the seeds have to be started in a place that is not too hot or in the open. Seed starting flats or jiffy plugs can be used to germinate tomato seeds.
How to plant tomato seeds
You will need the following for germinating the tomato seeds
- Tomato seeds
- Seed starting mix/Potting soil
- Seed starting flat/ pots
After you have the required items ready, you start sowing the tomato seeds.
- Fill up the container or pots with the seed starting mixture. A seed starting mixture is mix that is less fertilizer, infection free and well draining. It is usually soil-less and made of peat.
- Tap the surface of the container to remove any air pockets.
- Make small pits that are about 1/4th of an inch. Place the tomato seeds in that pit and gently close the hole with the peat.
- Remember, the seeds have to buried twice as deep as they are wide.
- After you have sown, gently water the container and remember to not over water. It can be kept in a warm place or in a propagator.
- In about 5-7 days the seeds will germinate. In summer the seeds germinate faster and in winter the seeds take a little longer to germinate.
- For fastest germination, temperatures of 70-80 F. (21-27 C.) are best
As soon as the seeds germinate, move them to a sunny spot. Not moving them sooner to a sunny location can cause the seedlings to stretch and become lanky. If you are growing tomatoes indoors, use a fluorescent or grow lights installed few inches above the seedlings.
Once true leaves are developed apply a weak fertilizer dose. Water them with a water soluble fertilizer at quarter strength. If the plants are lanky, move them to sunny or well lit spot.
Common Problems Growing Tomatoes in Containers
Container tomatoes are subject to many of the same pests present in field-grown tomatoes:
The infamous tomato hornworm, as well as aphids, whiteflies, and other tomato pests.
When you’re growing tomatoes in containers, be aware that container-grown tomatoes are more susceptible to Blossom End Rot (BER) than tomatoes grown in the ground. BER is not a disease; it’s a physiological disorder that causes sunken, brown spots on the bottom of the fruit.
Blossom End Rot is caused by uneven water transport in plants. The most common cause is uneven watering. Container vegetables are much more likely to dry out, and dry out more frequently, than the same vegetables grown in the ground. BER was once thought to be caused by calcium deficiency, but research has shown that it’s due to an inability to transport calcium to the fruit, and not a deficiency of calcium.
Still, if you’re concerned about adequate calcium, incorporate ground oyster shell or crushed, dried eggshells into the potting soil when you plant.
If you’re worried about Blossom End Rot, plant cherry tomatoes instead of the larger salad or beefsteak tomato varieties. I’ve never seen BER on cherry tomatoes.
Now that you know how to grow tomatoes , go ahead! Try different varieties and have fun!