Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Success! Tomatoes in Containers!

Husky Cherry, the winner!

We all have our personal challenges. On my list are calmly navigating the NY subway system, remembering names of people (plants I have no problem with), and growing tasty tomatoes in containers. What’s the big deal, subway savvy gardeners may wonder. But I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that gardeners who only have a rooftop to grow on just might forget how a real tomato tastes. My halfhearted attempts have gone like this: plants thrive until mid-August; a daily watering gets skipped; the lanky plants wilt; tomatoes end up tasting like February. This year, I resolved, I’ll get serious! I searched the catalogues for petite toms: Florida Basket, Smarty, Vilma, Maskotka, Gold Nugget, Heartland, Polbig, Husky Cherry. I scanned gardening experts’ websites for growing tips. Big containers, plentiful fertilizer, and lots and lots of water, they counsel (duh). I purchased container mixes and concocted my own—compost and peat moss with kelp meal and worm castings, and in some cases soil.

The results:

1. Organic Mechanics peat free potting mix plus kelp meal was a clear winner through early August. Plants thrived and produced, outgrowing the competition by several inches. But wait … by the third week in August, the Smarty plant in my own mix (½ pro-mix [peat, vermiculite, perlite], ¼ compost, ¼ soil, 4C worm castings, plus kelp meal) was just as tall and greener, supporting my hunch that tomatoes like the real stuff. Both mixes produced BTSB (better than store bought) cherry tomatoes.
2. The sturdiest and best-looking varieties were Husky Cherry and Heartland. Heartland tomatoes are big enough to slice, but growing them in grow bags like I did is probably not the best plan. Drying out caused some blossom end rot.

Maskotka was an impressive producer for a foot-high plant, but weak-looking.

If I were to recommend just one container tomato, Husky Cherry would be it.

So there you have it. Now I can go back to moving my tomatoes around the yard and skirting them with flowers. But if I ever do find myself without a plot to plant in, I will fill the bottom half of the container with my plus-soil mix to sustain the adults, the top half with Organic Mechanics to give my puppies a fast start. I also relearned a design lesson, first learned with impatiens and trumpet vine, that I have no excuse for forgetting.

Red-orange (Husky cherry tomatoes) and magenta (mini-petunias) do not make a pleasing pair.

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