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You know, I have yet to meet a mom who grows some of her own food, that doesn’t have a tomato plant. It just doesn’t happen.

Knowing how to grow tomatoes in a container is not just a gardening endeavor; it’s a rewarding journey from soil to table.

In this beginner’s guide showing you how to easily grow tomatoes, I’ll tell you the things that I have personally learned about growing tomatoes in the confined space of a container.

Pinterest pin showing tomatoes growing on a bush - some are red and some are still ripening.

**Tomatoes: A Berry or Not?**
– Despite that we usually call tomatoes vegetables, tomatoes are botanically classified as berries. They belong to the nightshade family and are technically fruits, therefore they are the world’s most popular fruit.

**The Lycopene Boost**
– Tomatoes are renowned for their rich content of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. This compound not only gives tomatoes their vibrant red color but also provides potential health benefits.


**Tomatoes in Space**

– In 2015, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) successfully grew and ate red romaine lettuce and zinnias, marking the first time that vegetables were cultivated and consumed in space. 

Tomatoes, being part of the same plant family, could potentially be cultivated in a similar manner for future space missions.

**The Tale of Heirloom**
– Heirloom tomatoes are not just a variety; they’re a piece of living history. These tomatoes are open-pollinated, meaning they’re pollinated by natural means, like wind or insects. Heirlooms often boast unique flavors, colors, and shapes, and many varieties have been passed down through generations, sometimes for over a century.

**The Perennial Confusion**
– While tomatoes are typically grown as annuals, they are technically perennial plants in their native tropical habitats. In these regions, tomatoes can live and produce fruit for several years. However, in temperate climates, they are grown as annuals due to the challenges posed by colder temperatures.

From Seed to Veggie

Tomatoes can take anywhere from 60 – 100 days to develop from seed to an edible fruit.

Factors such as the usual soil type, variety of plant, fertilizer, seasons, location, and lighting requirements all have an impact on this time frame.

Here is the info in a nutshell:

Planting season: Sow in spring but in milder climates you can sow in late-summer
Soil pH level: Between 6.0 – 6.8
Sunshine: 6 – 8 hours of direct sunlight per day
Can be grown in a container: Yes
Preferred weather: Sunny weather

Choosing the Right Container to Grow Tomatoes

One of the simplest things to figure out when wanting to grow tomatoes in a container, is that they generally grow better with one plant per pot.  Seedlings are quite hardy so it’s easy to transplant from trays into the container without damaging them.

Single plant:
Container size: minimum 5 gallons/ 20 liters

Multiple plants:
Container size: Not recommended

Tomatoes are adaptable – have you seen the images of them growing in hanging baskets, growing upside down from plastic bottles or even in boxes on window-sills. Many home-growers say the bigger the container, the larger the yield.

Know that porous containers absorb the water, so keep an eye on the dampness of the soil of your plants.

Best pH Levels of the Soil for Tomato Plants

Tomatoes like soil with a pH level of between 6.0 – 6.8.  You can naturally increase the pH level when you are prepping your soil by adding:

– Pine needles
– Sphagnum peat moss

If the soil is too alkalinethe tomatoes will struggle to absorb the nutrients they need.

 

Three Ways to Sow Tomato Seeds

  1. Seeds in a packet from the plant store

The soil is the most important thing – get the soil right from the start and you should honestly not have too many hassles. There are a few things you can do yourself to make good, nourishing soil for your tomato plants.

Then:

1. Fill the pots (or tray) with potting soil. Remove any bits of solid pieces. Good quality soil won’t have any bits in it.
2. Tomato seeds are tiny. Bury about 3mm deep.
3. Cover the hole with soil and water.
4. Put on a windowsill or somewhere sheltered but in the sun as the heat speeds up germination.

2. Crush a tomato and plant in the ground

3. Plant slices of tomato

Germination: 7 – 14 days
Days to Harvest: 80 – 100 days

Just adding water, soil and warmth will start the germination process.

 

Tomato Seeds for Sale

Homestead tomatoes sliced open on a white plate
Variety of tomatoes in different shapes and colors
Green striped zebra tomato seeds

Fertilizing Tomato Plants

Start to fertilize your tomato plants once the seedlings receive their second set of TRUE leaves. This is because the seedlings initially rely on the seed for its nutrients, as it contains everything the plant needs when it germinates and starts to grow.

Tomato plants are heavy feeders.

First Fertilzing

When providing fertilizer to tomato seedlings, it’s important to start with a balanced and gentle formulation to avoid overstimulating young plants.

A good choice for the first fertilizer application is a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer with equal amounts of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), often represented as N-P-K on fertilizer labels.

Look for a fertilizer with a ratio close to 10-10-10 or 14-14-14, as these formulations provide a balanced mix of essential nutrients for overall plant development. Here’s how to go about it:

1. Dilution
– For tomato seedlings, it’s crucial to dilute the fertilizer to half or a quarter of the recommended strength, especially for the first application. This helps prevent the risk of over-fertilization, which can harm young plants.

2. Application

– Apply the diluted fertilizer solution to the soil around the base of the seedlings, avoiding direct contact with the leaves. Water the seedlings thoroughly after applying the fertilizer.

3. Frequency
– For young seedlings, a mild fertilizer application every two to three weeks is generally sufficient. As the plants mature and are ready for transplanting, you can adjust the frequency and strength of the fertilizer according to their needs.

Always follow the specific instructions on the fertilizer packaging and monitor the seedlings for any signs of nutrient deficiencies or excesses.

Adjust your fertilization routine based on the growth and development of the tomato seedlings and consider transitioning to a fertilizer with a higher phosphorus content as the plants start to focus on flowering and fruiting.

 

Common Problem: Blossom End Rot

Blossom end rot is when the bottom of tomatoes gets dark and soft, almost squishy-like, because of a problem with the way the plant uses calcium, which can happen if the plant doesn’t get enough water. 

How does not having enough water affect the calcium uptake?

When a tomato plant doesn’t get enough water, its roots struggle to take up nutrients, including calcium, from the soil. Calcium plays a crucial role in forming strong cell walls in the tomatoes.

When there’s not enough water, the calcium doesn’t travel well through the plant, leading to blossom end rot where the tomatoes touch the ground. So basically, the tomatoes aren’t getting the support they need to stay healthy and firm.

So surely you need to ensure that your soil has enough calcium in it?

Absolutely! Ensuring that the soil has sufficient amounts of calcium is a key factor in preventing blossom end rot. This involves using calcium-rich amendments, such as lime or gypsum, and maintaining a well-balanced soil pH.

Additionally, providing consistent watering helps the plant efficiently absorb calcium from the soil, reducing the risk of blossom end rot. Proper soil preparation, including adding organic matter, can contribute to a healthy balance of nutrients, promoting optimal calcium uptake for the tomatoes.

How can you naturally add more calcium to the soil?

Both ground eggshells and lime can be beneficial additions to the soil during preparation, especially if you’re aiming to address calcium-related issues such as blossom end rot. Here’s a brief overview of each:

1. **Ground Eggshells:**
– Crushed eggshells are a natural source of calcium carbonate. Save your egg shells after breakfast, wash them out, and leave them to dry. Use a grinder, a blennder, or a mortar and pessel to ground them down into a powder. Including ground eggshells in your soil can contribute to a slow and steady release of calcium, which is beneficial for preventing blossom end rot. 

2. **Lime:**
– Lime, specifically agricultural or garden lime, is another source of calcium carbonate. It not only provides calcium but also helps adjust soil pH, particularly in acidic soils. If your soil is both calcium-deficient and too acidic, lime can address both issues. However, it’s crucial to conduct a soil pH test before adding lime to ensure you don’t inadvertently make the soil too alkaline.

When preparing the soil, you can choose to incorporate either or both of these amendments based on your soil’s specific needs. Remember that moderation is key, as excessive amounts of calcium or adjustments to soil pH beyond the desired range can have unintended consequences.

Regular soil testing and monitoring will help you make informed decisions about the best amendments for your tomato garden.

Blossom-end rot in tomatoes

Final Say: Grow Tomatoes in a Container 

Another point about learning to grow tomato plants in a container, is that these plants grow upwards, so you can plant companion plants in the soil around them. One veggie that is a great companion plant is beetroot.
Just ensure that you plant them so the beets are in the sun – but again, being in a container you can just turn the container as you need. 

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