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General discussion regarding the techniques and methods used to successfully grow tomato plants in containers.

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Old February 16, 2017   #1
Walt B.
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Default Problems with my large SIP

I built 2 large raised bed SIPs (7'x4'). They turned out great (the boxes) but my produce was underwhelming. I live outside of Sacramento (Zone 9A) so it gets hot here in the summer for very long stretches of time (95+ for many days) which is why I went with SIPs in the first place to prevent uneven watering. I used Raybo's 3-2-1 mix (substituting fir bark fines for the pine) to fill the boxes. They wicked perfectly all summer long (according to my moisture meter).

My tomatoes struggled all season (but produced some fruit late) whereas my peppers only grew to about 8" only yielding a few miscolored peppers. Almost every tomato plant suffered from leaf roll all season long. Blossom end rot hit almost all of my early fruit on every plant. I suspect I watered the reservoir too frequently (I was thinking the tomato leaf roll was underwatering) but I also think fertilization was a problem. Considering we get zero rain through the growing season here...... I was thinking the Epsoma Sure Start fertilizer and lime I put in at the beginning never really broke down through the season for the plants.

Here's the specs of my SIPs:

Dimensions: 84" x 44" x 11" (peppers/cucumber box) 24 cubic feet

84" x 44" x 13" (tomato box) 28 cubic feet
depth dimension is of soil media above reservoir

Tomato Box: 3-2-1 Raybo Mix


3 parts sphagnum peat moss

2 part fir bark fines

1 perlite

2 cups dolomite lime per 2 cubic feet peat

6 cups Sure-Start fertilizer mixed in

1 fertilizer strip of one bag Tomato-Tone 5 inches deep down middle


Pepper/Cucumber Box: 3-2-1 Raybo Mix
2 cups dolomite lime per 2 cubic feet peat
6 cups Sure-Start fertilizer mixed in

1 bag EB Stone worm castings

So here's my questions that maybe more seasoned SIP gardeners can help me with:

1) Can you overwater SIP containers by topping them off too often (weekly)? I was under the assumption that the wicking was fairly consistent regardless of how much was in the reservoir.

2) Are organic fertilizers a problem in soilless growing medias considering there is little soil life to break it down?

3) Should I just move to all liquid fertilizers rather than relying on granular fertilizers mixed in at the beginning of the season?
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Old February 16, 2017   #2
Sun City Linda
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I grow in standard EarthBoxes which typically hold two cubic feet each of growing medium. The fert quanitity is generally about two cups per box, +/- depending on the strength. If its organic 3+ cups and I mix it in but if its synthetic I apply it at a strip on top. As to your specific questions I have had a problem growing tomatoes which are very heavy feeders using only organics unless I supplement often with liquids. Typical growing medium is fairly lacking in micro colonies although I see you have added worm castings, I don't add any manures of any type to mine as they will muck up the growing medium faster. I have a hot climate, similar to yours and I start early. Actually I have been planted out for a couple weeks. Topping off should not be a problem as long as your box is constructed property. EBs are a contained system and use a cover on top which I see you do not have.
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Old February 17, 2017   #3
Dangit
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Hey Walt,
First off, you are a very trusting person to put your planters that close to the side walk. Here on the mean streets of Simi Valley, those tomatoes wouldn't last for a second. ( I would have stolen them )
I have a SIP that is 8'X3' that I grow vegetables in, and a bunch of tubs for the tomatoes and peppers. Your mix is very near what I use, and no, you can't over water as long as you have over flow holes in the water reservoir placed below the soil level.
I use a mixed bag of ferts, liquid and dry. I'm still working out what works best, but there has been no problems with any of them.
The weather here is at least as hot and dry as yours so I use shade cloth at 30% when the heat is In the 90s or higher. That really seems to make a big difference. Kind of a hassle but worth the effort for me.
This will be my 3rd year in containers, so I'm not an expert, but I have gotten plenty of tomatoes and vegetables and am happy with my results.
Good luck to you,
Marc
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Old February 22, 2017   #4
Walt B.
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I have a top of line security system called blossom end rot that keeps all but the really hungry out of my garden.

What fertilizers have been successful for you? Can you get away with organics in this mix with little soil-life? I'll definitely try the solar shade this summer
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Old February 22, 2017   #5
Sun City Linda
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A teaspoon of Sodium Nitrate weekly(The Snack at Earthbox) goes a long way to preventing or greatly reducing BER, which tends to be more of a problem in containers, although its not organic. As I said before organics can be a real challenge growing in sterile medium. Possible but not easy, or cheap. Those microherds (which are needed to digest organics to make them available to your plants) have a tendency to die off in hot climate containers. Then your plants starve to death. Kind of a boom bust thing. I recall quite a few discussions about this here and we do have some committed organic growers who use containers. I'm just not one of them.
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Old February 22, 2017   #6
Dangit
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My mix is a bit different in that I add a bunch of compost to it. I don't worry too much about going organic either. I could be completely wrong, but it seems that the label 'organic' is mostly sales hype. (ducking).
At the start of the season I mix in a healthy dose of Tomato Tone. and then as the plants grow I do a top watering with Texas Tomato Food once a week. I've tried the calcium nitrate thing and it at least seems to do no harm. I'll keep using it till what I have is gone. That's pretty much it.
Like I said, I'm no expert at this, just doing what makes sense to me. I have been getting good results both tomatoes and vegetables, so it will remain a learning curve.
Good luck, Marc
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Old February 22, 2017   #7
KC.Sun
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I have a constant drip setup for my earthboxes. It's what Earthbox advertises as the automatic watering system. Last year was the first year I setup the system. I didn't finish the setup for all my earthboxes.

What I noticed was that, the boxes with irrigation tube produced at least by a 8-10 fold difference when compared to my non irrigated boxes.

All boxes had organic fertilizer with tomato/pepper/okra. Some tomatoes were also hit by blossom end rot. I wonder it it's because those types grew so aggressively that they used up all the fertilizer in the box very quickly. I'm going to try adding calcinit and Epsom salts again this year. I didn't experience blossom end rot when I did use those in conjunction with fertilizers the previous year.

I wonder if the water supply you have setup is enough to feed you plants or if it's a mulch issue. Earthbox comes with a plastic mulch cover that's designed to help retain water.
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Old June 5, 2017   #8
venturabananas
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I'm not a SIP expert, but I do grow most of my tomatoes in containers, 15-20 gallon. For me BER is a clear sign of uneven watering, specifically letting them dry out. Just based on the photos, that mix looks really dry at the top. Personally, I'd apply a thick layer of bark mulch (or something else that is easy to deal with and still allows top watering) and see if that helps. I wonder if with those really high temps, the wicking is fast enough to keep the soil in the top half of the bed moist.
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Old June 5, 2017   #9
Nematode
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Not a sip guy, but those plants look like they are missing something nutrient wise. May be ph induced, cant tell.
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Old June 5, 2017   #10
zipcode
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I'm more inclined to think they are underwatered as people have noticed.
I think the bigger problem of organic in this case it's not the 'herd' but moisture. If enough moisture doesn't reach the fertilizer it's not going to decompose soon. Also you can't really add any later when water comes from below. For organic I think that top watering is just simpler.
But, in your case you can do both since you didn't cover them with plastic or anything. Just add some top water from time to time and should be good.
And yeah, in anything soilless, going inorganic is just much easier.
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Old June 5, 2017   #11
RayR
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What's Espoma Sure Start? Do you mean Espoma Bio-Tone Starter Plus?

Organic fertilizers are not a problem in soil-less growing media as long as there is soil life to mineralize the insoluble components. Your Espoma dry fertilizers contain 3 Bacillus species to help with that, but that's not enough in my book for a kicking organic container growing environment. The worm castings are good also assuming they are biologically active with bacteria. I would recommend strongly inoculating your medium with a wide variety of beneficial bacteria, mycorrhizal fungi and trichoderma fungi. There is a lot of good products out there for that like MycoGrow Soluble from fungi.com, Great White from Plant Success, Myco Madness from Humboldt Nutrients.
Adding a little good quality compost is good for adding more beneficial organisms which hopefully be protozoa, soil mites, nematodes and other members of the Soil Food Web
Ina closed system like a SIP it's best to try to add these higher organisms yourself with compost or an Alaska Humus product. In my standard containers it's amazing what shows up entering through the drain holes. Earthworms and all kinds of critters.
In addition to your dry organic fertilizer, it's a very good idea to supplement any containers with a little liquid organic fertilizer every week or two.
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Old June 5, 2017   #12
RayR
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zipcode View Post
I'm more inclined to think they are underwatered as people have noticed.
I think the bigger problem of organic in this case it's not the 'herd' but moisture. If enough moisture doesn't reach the fertilizer it's not going to decompose soon. Also you can't really add any later when water comes from below. For organic I think that top watering is just simpler.
But, in your case you can do both since you didn't cover them with plastic or anything. Just add some top water from time to time and should be good.
And yeah, in anything soilless, going inorganic is just much easier.
I agree the wicking issue needs to be addressed. Top down watering if the wicking is not happening correctly. With liquid organic fertilizers always water them in from the top.
Inorganic fertilizers are for those that can't hack the organic learning curve.
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Old June 6, 2017   #13
Shrinkrap
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Good stuff.
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Old June 6, 2017   #14
edweather
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Nice planters! A bit late to the party, but my first impression is under watered and underfed. Sacramento spring sun, if its anything like here in southeast GA, can be brutal. I need to keep my 15 gal containers soaked once per day, and I feed weakly almost every time I water. I have minimal experience with SIPs but have used the a couple of times. MY SIPs always had a covered top to keep the moisture in. Imo, leaf roll is common in the heat, sort of self defense for the plant. Blossom end rot is common, and the best explaination Ive read is NOT a lack of calcium, but during the fast growing early stages in containers, it's the inability of the calcium to be distributed to the end of the fruit. I'll try and find the article. A much more experienced container grower that I know, usually says save the organics for the ground.

edit: not the exact article I was thinking about, but along the lines:

http://www.gardenmyths.com/blossom-end-rot/
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Last edited by edweather; June 6, 2017 at 11:11 AM.
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