How To Grow Tomatoes In Pots And Containers
Enjoying Your Home Grown Tomatoes
Tomatoes are one of the most popular staples in our cooking. They originate from South America but are now popular the world over. Perhaps part of their popularity is down to their versitility. They can be used in salads, in sauces, in drinks, and as one of the main ingredients of meals. Unripened green fruit at the end of the season can be used for chutneys.
Tomatoes make ideal plants for pot and container growing. With the right care and conditions they can produce a decent crop from a relatively small area. They do require fertile soil, which makes container growing ideal as optimum growing medium can be provided for them.
Tomatoes are good for you; packed with vitamins and antioxidents, which is another great reason to grow your own. Home grown tomatoes will always be fresher, tastier and healthier than any you can buy in the shops. As fruit and vegetables start losing their goodness the moment they are picked, being able to take your tomatoes from plant to plate in a matter of moments will ensure you enjoy them at their most fresh.
Choosing Plant Types
Conventional tomato plants, known as cordon or upright tomatoes, grow tall and will need supports to keep them upright. They also require side shoots to be removed. This is known as pinching out and is the process of removing the side shoots that aren't bearing fruit. This will help divert the energy to the remaining plant and fruit and will also allow for more light and warmth to circulate around the plant. When the plant had grown to the desired height, usually about 4 to 5 branches high, the top shoot should also be pinched off to stop it growing any further upwards.
Sprawling plants are ideal for hanging baskets and large pots from which they can grow and sprawl over the sides.
Bush plants are ideal where space is a premium. A healthy small bush plant should still produce a good quantity of small juicy fruit.
Within these three main types there are hundreds if varieties, so when choosing plants go for ones that you find interesting or can't readily buy in the stores. Having unusual types will add interest to the flavours and appearances of your meals.
Growing Your Plants
You can either buy young plants or use seeds and germinate the plants yourself. In warm spring weather the seeds will take a week or two to germinate. It's a good idea to sow a few seeds to each small pot in case some fail to germinate and then thin down to the healthiest one. When they are about 10-15cm tall transplant them into their main growing pot, container or grow bag. Pots and containers should ideally be at least 30cm deep or if using a tomato grow bag, three plants per bag would be the ideal amount.
Watering and feeding.
Tomatoes need to be kept well watered and are one of the more thirsty plants grown for their crop. Ensure watering is done on a regular basis, as over-watering, followed by periods of being allowed to dry out will result in a poor crop, a weak plant and splitting fruit. If the compost is allowed to stay dry for too long a condition called blossom end rot will cause the fruit to become blackened. Once the plant starts flowering feed every two weeks with a purpose made tomato feed. These feeds are rich in potassium, essential for fruiting crops to produce a good yield. Good organic alternatives are available.
Pests and disease.
White fly can be a problem when growing tomatoes as they damage the plants. Gentle tapping of the leaves will result in the flies leaving the underside of your plants if they have been affected. There are biological methods to controlling them but if an organic approach is prefered, try planting basil and marigolds with the tomatoes or arrange pots of them next to the tomato pots. These will help deter pests and also attract beneficial insects. Alternatively, try a soap and water spray. An even worse problem is blight. Tell tale signs are black areas appearing on the leaves, leading to the rest of the plant and the fruit, ultimately killing the plant. Blight shouldn't be a problem for plants grown indoors.
Harvesting And Storing
To enjoy them at their best pick the fruit as soon as they are ready and eat as soon as possible to benefit from them being at their most fresh. Avoid storing tomatoes in the fridge as the chilling reduces their flavour. If you do, take them out several hours before use. To help ripen tomatoes that have been picked off the plant at the end of the season, try placing them in a bowl with a ripe one or on a sunny windowsill. Another trick is to place them in a bowl with a banana, as these fruit give off ripening gas called ethylene.
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