Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Great Container Challenge

I have read a TON of information about growing crops in small spaces. Almost every article I've read has touted the effectiveness of containers and how economical they are with regard to space.

Okay. I do have some containers on my potting bench and around the patio. They work well for small things, like one or two cucumber plants or a strawberry plant. I wondered how well containers would work for something big, like a tomato plant.

The new hydroponic upside-down tomato growers are cool, but we took down our patio roof due to termites, so there's nothing from which to hang the pots. Containers it would have to be. Ceramic pots were cost-prohibitive, and even the bigger plastic pots got kind of pricey. I went to OSH and bought $5 buckets, drilled holes in the bottom, and filled them with my vermicomposted dirt. Then I planted a tomato plant in each one, while planting other tomato plants in the ground nearby.

Here are the results. The first picture is two of the tomato plants in their individual pots. This picture was taken about two weeks ago; since then, the smaller plant has caught up and they're both about the same size. Both have some flowers, and are starting to fruit just a little.

Next up, the ground dwellers:
These are actually two tomato plants together. (You can see a cucumber creeping into the picture as well as the remains of the onions, which the cat likes to nap on.) There's a huge difference in size, color... everything. The only thing that is about the same is that both the ground-dwellers and the containers have few flowers and few fruits.

In the OC Register this morning there was an article about using nitrogen-based fertilizers. The main point was that the nitrogen really encourages color and leaf growth, but that all the plant's energy goes toward that and not toward fruit/vegetable production. That certainly seems to be the case with my tomatoes.

I'm giving the plants the benefit of the doubt. I've certainly fed them a ton of nitrogen (since I've been using the tadpole water as fertilizer), and maybe I haven't really helped them as much as I'd hoped.

Stay tuned for more fun from the tomato files. I'm really interested in finding out which group will provide the better fruit!


  1. Both my grandmother and Tim's used to whack at the tomato plants with a broom handle when they weren't bearing. It always helped. What I've found out in the years since is that the pollen sometimes needs a little help transfering from blossom to blossom. Most tomatoes are wind pollenated so giving the plants a good hard shake helps. I'm also a believer in 'threatening' plants into doing better. ;0)Hey, sometimes it works with kids, so why not????

  2. Oh, one more thing....I've found a can of spray paint really spiffs up plastic pots. Nope, I don't use special paint for plastic, just the cheapest spray paint I can find. I figure if it last two or three years, I'll be bored with the color and ready for a change anyway.

  3. Beat the plants with a broom, eh? Well, what the heck; I'll give it a try. Since this blog entry my container plants are even more yellow and spindly, as are some of the ground dwellers that are getting direct sun. I moved the containers to a shadier spot where they'll get diffused sunlight. I think with the light reflecting off the cement patio floor and the off-white walls, it's just too much for the plants.