You’ll never find an Indian kitchen without tomatoes. They are a prime ingredient in most curries, make a great addition to salads and even make for a refreshingly cool drink. Tomatoes grow easily from seeds but I’ve found it next to impossible to grow them into healthy plants with a rich yield. I realized that was because I was taking care of the plants the wrong way. If you are struggling to grow tomatoes in containers, here’s a guide to help you get started.
How to Grow Tomatoes in Containers
Here are the basic guidelines and instructions for growing tomatoes in containers to get a good harvest.
Tomatoes require a fairly large pot (minimum 8 inches deep but 12 0r 16 inches is better) to grow. Try to use containers that are light colored or one that will not absorb too much heat as excessive heat will affect the roots and prevent them from giving fruit. If you find your plants flowering but not producing fruit, that could be one of the reasons. Finally, make sure you don’t place the pots too close to one another. There must be enough space for air circulation.
A well drained organic soil is a must for growing tomatoes. The soil should not be heavy but light and aerated so any good potting mix should do. Make sure you replace the soil every 2 years and not repot another tomato plant in the same container. You can freshen the soil every year by replacing a few inches of the top layer with new fertilized soil.
Tomatoes require a lot of sun , at least 6-8 hours to produce a good harvest, so find the sunniest spot in your terrace to grow the plants.
Tomatoes must be planted deeply to encourage a healthy and strong root system. At the time of planting, cover the bottom two-third of the tomato plant with potting soil. For example, if your plant is 10 inches tall, let only 3 inches of the plant be visible from the top. Also make sure to plant just 1 plant in a pot. Don’t crowd the pot with more than one plant. It will stress the plant and reduce fruiting. And hey, just before you plant the tomato plant into the pot, make sure to mix a good dose of Epsom Salt into the soil.
Tomatoes in containers require regular watering since the roots cannot extend themselves in search of water. Another thing to remember when watering tomato plants is that they don’t like water on their leaves. Make sure you water the soil, preferably in the mornings when they can make good use of it. The goal of watering is to keep the soil moist; too much water will rot the plant and too little water will weaken it.
Tomatoes require regular fertilization since the regular watering of the plants can dilute or drain away its nutrients. A diluted fish emulsion or seaweed extract can be applied every two weeks to give a steady supply of nutrients to the plants. Bone meal, a good source of phosphorous and Epsom salts, a good source of magnesium can be added once a month. If you want to try a homemade DIY organic fertilizer, go for crushed eggshells and a ground banana.
Mulching isn’t a major requirement but in greatly helps in keeping the soil moist and preventing weeds from sprouting.
Tomatoes are clumsy plants. And easily prone to diseases. Staking helps to support the plant and prevent it from falling down on the ground and picking up diseases. It also allows the leaves to get enough air circulation and dry out. It also makes it easier to harvest the fruit and monitor the plant for illnesses.
Stakes can be long pieces of wood, plastic poles or anything strong and sturdy that can hold the plant in place. It is best to have stakes about 6 to 8 feet tall. You can even buy tomato cages that are sold in nurseries for the purpose, but really, any solid log of wood would do. As the plant grows, you can tie the stems to the stakes in levels.
Drive the stake right next to the main stem of the plant. Then take a string, about 7-8 inches long, and tie the main stem to the stake loosely. Tomato stems are soft and delicate so be sure to avoid avoid injuring the stem when you’re tying them.
You’ll know that your tomatoes are ripe for plucking when the skin turns from a dull matte look to one that is slightly glossy and shiny. When you touch the tomato, you will also notice that it is slightly soft to the touch. That’s the best time for picking them.
Remove the dying tomato plants from the pots at the end of the growing season. If you plan to use the same pots to grow more tomatoes or plants like capsicum and brinjals, make sure to use fresh soil.Wash the pot thoroughly before reusing.
With all these tips, you should have a good harvest of organic tomatoes in your terrace garden.
What has been your experience growing tomato plants in containers? We’d love to hear your trials and success stories.