Many Ways To Grow Tomatoes
They say that if you ask ten tomato growers the same the question, you’ll get ten different answers!
The truth is … there are many ways to grow tomatoes that achieve the same results. The favourite method of one gardener may be completely different from the “tried and trusted” method of another, but they both work.
Part of the reason is because there are many variables in the growing process.
For example, there are a number of significant differences when growing in containers as opposed to growing directly in the ground – that’s the back garden soil vegetable patch, greenhouse border or allotment.
If growing directly in the ground, the bigger the root system, the better.
If growing in containers, there is a limit to the size the roots can grow before they outgrow their pot and become pot-bound.
The idea in container growing is to give a plant all it needs so that its roots won’t become too large and therefore pot-bound.
It is the case, as shown by hydroponics, that a plant that has access to water and food 24/7 – that’s whenever it needs them, will grow a smaller root system and be happier in a smaller pot.
The container grower who uses soil, can take a number of tips from the hydroponic grower, especially where space is limited, and use them to great advantage.
These include methods of watering and feeding, also known by that strange word: “fertigation”. Using various types of media to make the most of a limited root space and also by growing in containers that allow more oxygen into the root area for better respiration.
One significant disadvantage of a container is its small surface area, as opposed to growing directly in the ground where roots can branch out, particularly just below the soil surface, and have access to a lot more oxygen than the regular container grown plant.
Not only is a tomato plant likely to become pot-bound in a container, root capping may also occur and prevent oxygen entering the root system from the soil surface.
Oxygen and Root Pruning
A number of new container designs have been produced to deal with the issues of providing enough oxygen in the root zone and also roots becoming pot bound. These include the air pot and smart pots made of a fabric material.
However, there are other crucially important aspects when growing tomatoes in containers that need addressing, namely a regular water supply and feeding.
Running around the garden with a watering can before and after work is not only inconvenient, it’s a bit hit and miss – and if growing under clouds rather than cover, we can never be sure of the weather!
The Hozelock waterer is a helpful way to solve the issue of regular watering.
The Quadgrow Planter and Autopot System have been around for a while and are also very helpful in providing both water and nutrients to plants, whenever they need it.
Plants grown on an allotment or garden vegetable patch, won’t have the restrictions of a container and will be able to develop a larger root system – giving access to oxygen at surface level plus access to water and nutrients over a wide area.
One reason why grow bags have been so successful is because their surface area is (usually) greater than that of a large pot. Of course the shallow depth of soil in a grow bag has its disadvantages too.
Whatever way we choose to grow tomatoes, there are always pros and cons. The challenge is to find ways to work around the disadvantages that each growing method has, and find a solution.
It Needn’t Be Expensive
After reading the above, you may think that I’m suggesting that the only successful way to grow tomatoes in containers is to use an expensive reservoir system and/or air pots.
While these are very good for growing tomatoes, and I will be using all of the above this season, it’s possible with a bit of ingenuity to make similar systems at a fraction of the cost. More about this in coming newsletters.
As we approach the best time for sowing in the UK, the second half of March, if you haven’t already started you may like to join me in the “sow-along” starting on the 22nd March.
Mainly aimed at those who are new to growing tomatoes or those who find it difficult to get a good crop, it should be fun to follow along!
The article about osmosis will appear in the drop down menu at the top of this page in a day or two – as will other articles over the coming weeks – so come back soon.
May all your seeds germinate!
Seedlings up to four weeks
In the first few weeks it is very important not to over-water seedlings. They will develop a better root system if they are slightly under-watered and encouraged to search for water with their roots.
Seedlings over four weeks
Transplant seedlings after around four weeks into their own small pots.
If you add perlite or vermiculite to the mix, you can water from above as there is no chance of compaction and removal of air.
If you are growing in seed compost or potting compost without perlite or vermiculite, it’s a good idea to water from below in a tray or saucer. It’s also a good idea to allow compost to dry slightly to get plenty of air back into the root zone as the soil dries. Obviously, never allow soil to dry-out completely.
Over-watering will reduce air in compost, slow plant growth and root development and possibly cause root disease.
By allowing compost to dry-out a little just before transplanting helps to make the soil lighter and roots less likely to break.