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

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Old December 20, 2016   #1
Join Date: Sep 2015
Location: California
Posts: 84
Default What Did You Learn This Past Season?

Well now, for me, it was quite a season. Did many experiments and learned a great deal

What did you learn this season?

Let me start this thread off with a few of the many lessons I learned.

I bought a seedling, Early Girl, for $3.98 to replace a failed plant in the middle of the growing season. Planted it right away in a 4.5 gallon bucket with good ferts, great potting mix recipe, placed in a great sunny spot, and watered it properly. It didn't do a thing all rest of the season, barely grew at all. I discovered something when I pulled the plant. As always, I take a good look at the roots when extracting the plant from the bucket. There were hardly any roots!

The nice looking nursery that I bought the plant from did a very dishonest thing. It merely put a robust looking cutting in a 4"x4" seedling container and put in on the shelf to sell. I bought it thinking it was a healthy plant and I paid a premium price for it. But what I got was a fresh cutting with no root system!

The lesson here is, if you buy a seedling, while at the nursery, pull it out of the seedling container and look to see if there is a decent root ball. If no root ball, don't buy it.

Next lesson. Grow your own seedling from a cutting. It takes a good month and a half to get a decent root ball in a 4"x4" container or in a 16 oz to 20 oz plastic cup with un fertilized potting mix. Do it yourself and grow the root ball in either of the aforementioned containers, set it somewhere in your kitchen for 1.5 months and keep the soil moist. Done. If you need more detail on this process or just how or where to cut the cutting from a tomato plant, let me know. BTW, I planted an Early Girl from a cutting taken from one of my other successfully growing Early Girl after I bought the aforementioned looser cutting. I took the cutting put it in a 4"x4" container for 1.5 months, then planted it in a planter box in early September this year and the plant is now 8 ft tall with 4 trusses of tomatoes. Just harvested the first tomato two days ago!

Next lesson. Making seeds for next season is a slam dunk. Much easier than I thought it would be. Take a clean 24 fluid ounce glass jar, remove the lid, put in the seeds from a fresh plump tomato while getting as much of the gel and fluid as you can into the jar with the seeds, then add an equal volume of water. Place plastic wrap tightly over the top of the jar and do a quick jab of the taught plastic wrap with a paring knife for a half inch air hole slit. Let it set on the kitchen counter for two to 4 days and it will develop a white scum. Gently add about 3 ounces of water and then scoop out or pour off the scum, add about 4 to 6 fluid oz of water to the remaining seeds and shake well, then pour off the liquid. Any seeds that float, get rid of them. Only keep the seeds that sink to the bottom. Do this rinse about four times. Drain off the water. Spread the seeds on a paper towel for about 1 minute while gently rubbing the seeds against the paper towel to help dry them. Next, spread the seeds out on a flat dinner plate to dry for two or three days. Every now and then, move the seeds (with your finger nail) every so often as they will tend to stick to the plate as they your best to always keep them un-stuck to the plate. When they are dry and freely slide on the plate, put in a paper envelope and label the envelope with cultivar name and the date. Store the seeds in a dry place. Done.

I got a million more lessons all from this season. What are your lessons? Let us know. Looking forward to reading what lessons you learned this past season.

Last edited by BajaMitch; December 20, 2016 at 09:29 AM.
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Old December 20, 2016   #2
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Join Date: Jul 2013
Location: Ontario
Posts: 3,109

I learned that black plastic did a better job than pond weed as a mulch!

I planted cherry tomatoes and indeterminates under black plastic. Dwarfs and peppers received a 4" layer of pond weed. This usually works out just fine with everything flourishing, but this summer we had a drought, and I gave my plants limited water just around their roots. (We are on a well, and the pond was drying out!)

The dwarfs didn't grow as tall as they had the previous season, and fruit was less prolific.

It didn't help that the ground had cracked, with huge fissures visible when all the mulch was removed at the end of the season.

Next season I will attempt to find some more black plastic and grow all my tomatoes under that.

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Old December 20, 2016   #3
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: selmer, tn
Posts: 2,921

I learned that I wasn't as smart as I thought I was.

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Old December 20, 2016   #4
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Join Date: Mar 2014
Location: Greenville, South Carolina
Posts: 2,990

I learned a lot as well. Here are a few I can remember...

1. starting 2k plants and having 2 late freezes is a nightmare when you have nowhere but inside to bring them. I need a heated space badly.

2. Tomatoes do much better in a coldframe here than outdoors. Keeping rain off the leaves made it easy to keep the plants healthy and productive. More tunnels going up this year.

3. I need to stop forcing more plants into my space because it just causes more issues and I would be much better off with only planting what I can manage. I'm limiting heirlooms this year.

4. People want to buy perfect red tomatoes, red red red red! Growing more reds

5. Market farming and working full time in my climate (I work outside) leads to burnout pretty quickly. I have to streamline things to help with the labor load I have or I'm back to growing for fun.

6. My new Farmers market is great. Friendly vendors and great customers but I need to be more consistent.

7. Plastic mulch and weed barrier are a great help to eliminate weeding. If you buy any weed barrier get the 6oz if you can.

8. I'm still learning so much every year, and the more I learn the more I see why most growers just plant bulletproof hybrids. Heirlooms are the spoiled rich girls of tomatoes.

9. I have to learn to graft to grow heirlooms on a commercial scale here. Just going to have to do it.

10. I have accepted that growing in containers is the best way to grow here but until I have a real GH I am waiting to do so, but then I plan to follow the example of AKmark and others here that have been so successful. Until then grafting and soil improvement will have to suffice.

11. Fred's tomatoes perform really well for me and taste amazing. Orange Jazz is a beast. We need more breeders making good tasting tomatoes that are super productive. Every grower I talk to says heirlooms are a waste of time and a $ loss.

12. Having a 1 year old and a teenager is wildly fun!
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Old December 20, 2016   #5
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Join Date: Oct 2012
Location: Vancouver Island
Posts: 4,362

I learned that moving from zone 3 to zone 8 is like moving to a different planet.
starting over learning how to garden again!
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Old December 20, 2016   #6
Join Date: May 2015
Location: Nevada
Posts: 258

BigVanVader: Have you discovered any good tasting hybrid tomatoes besides cherries?
I also have some Jet Star. But if you know of any others that have some decent taste, do tell!

I ordered some big beef, but see I made a mistake and didn't realize they were treated, so not sure what I'm going to do with 40 seeds if they don't last but one season as I'm told treated seed is only good for that.

My whole block may wind up with Big Beef tomatoes next year.

Last edited by schill93; December 20, 2016 at 02:46 PM.
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Old December 20, 2016   #7
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Location: Greenville, South Carolina
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To me all hybrid reds taste about the same. So far Big Beef is my favorite. I don't like red tomatoes and it is the only one I have found I don't mind eating if I have to.
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Old December 20, 2016   #8
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Join Date: Jan 2014
Location: Southern WI
Posts: 2,419

I learned I needed to increase the frequency of feeding my bucket tomatoes and peppers as the year went on and their water needs increased.

I will battle Septoria every year--I think I'll start spraying after planting out with dilute bleach spray to see how it works as preventative.

I'm glad I upped my chopping and freezing of fresh tomatoes--they are very welcomed additions to chili and soup this winter.

I liked every variety I grew, loved a few. I'll echo the Big Beef F1 comments--first time I grew it and it will come back. Best flavor hybrid I've had and the production was insane.
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Old December 20, 2016   #9
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Join Date: May 2014
Location: Zone 8A Texas Heat Zone 9
Posts: 11,236

I learned that RKN sucks the life out of tomato plants. < Sentence could be shortened and mean the same thing.
Salt, AlittleSalt, Robert
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Old December 20, 2016   #10
Join Date: Jul 2013
Location: SE PA
Posts: 359

For containers...I learned I absolutely love using rain gutter to grow in. I had 10 ft of gutter this season. Used it for red beets right through the hot, dry summer and they did great compared to similar top watering last year.

On Aug 8th I put in sweet peas ~20 ea in seven of the ten pots. I put a CRW trellis around them when they grew over the stick and string I started them with. I just took them down a few days ago...mid December! It was iced and I didn't want to wreck it.

I planted three other sets of sweet peas to compare at the same time in Aug...and tried to water them enough.
one in raised bed did nothing in the heat, 1 ft
one in ground but shady after noon did not much, 2 ft,
one in ground afternoon sun did pretty well, but at 4 foot got razed by rabbits and squirrels.

The constant access to water and somewhat protected access of the rain gutter pots really did wonders. The peas had been super sweet since it turned cold, and I'll miss browsing them. I hope to have 30 ft of gutter next year.
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Old December 20, 2016   #11
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Location: Newfoundland, Canada
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A wierd year and I learned quite a bit.

(1) Fearing the worst distorted my perspective... into assuming or concluding, the worst. So there were some pleasant surprises after a while, but without the 'bonus' of an actual pleasant surprise, since I was sure of the worst for a period of time, and it just... wasn't the case. Imagine.. tomatoes taught me something not-helpful about myself!
(2) What they say about container mix is true. I got the wrong stuff - due to being misinformed about the mix before it was delivered - and I used it anyway, but if I had my time back I would not have bothered. All kinds of trouble with 'topsoil' in the mix (aka amended clay) instead of sand as I expected. And besides the emergency measures I had to do early in the season to try to fix the compacted soil effects, I also had some potassium deficiency damage to my crop anyway - as I had last year because of cold. Making potassium available, addressing every cause of deficiency..... yes I believe it is the #1 key to growing top notch tomatoes.

(3) Overcrowding is another cause of potassium deficiency. See above. Why do I make this mistake again and again?

(3) (b) Build it and they will come? Maybe a good idea. Let them come and build it later... not as good an idea.

(4) To everything there is a season. Carolyn is right. I enjoy tomatoes more when I actually have none left in the freezer by spring time.

(5) Big beefsteaks are not a great choice for outdoors in our climate. That puckered stem end is a happy-hole for fungus rot. Smooth shoulder shape is a better idea, or the whole effort may be wasted.

(6) If I sold every tomato I grew in our short/unpredictable season, I would not make minimum wage for the effort. Starting later and growing outdoors, even worse and a shocking amount of green fruit wasted. Tomatoes are a bit of a lost leader here, even for farms with lots of infrastructure. It is just a (delicious) hobby, for me. Better to grow a few, and don't sell any.
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Old December 20, 2016   #12
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Join Date: Mar 2015
Location: Bozeman, Montana Zone 6b
Posts: 267
Default Yes I Can

I discover primarily with the help of this site that I can grow, onions, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes at 6000 feet in the northern Rockies to my exacting standard's.

Beans, peas, carrots need more work.
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Old December 31, 2016   #13
Join Date: Sep 2015
Location: California
Posts: 84

I did about nineteen different closely watched and documented experiments this past season involving different potting mix recipes, fertilizer application approaches, fertilizer macro nutrient ratios, varying container sizes, container with holes (for root pruning) and without holes, contrasts between drip irrigation and self-watering containers, and contrasts with different types of fertilizers (chemical water soluble ferts, compost, granular time release ferts). The following reflects some of the findings supported by my experiments:

1. When planting in a planter or on the ground, putting a 1 ft square sheet of plastic at the base of the plant keeps the plant from being over run by earwigs. Simple cut a 2 inch "X" in the middle of the sheet, then cut from any edge to that "X" and place at the base of the plant. Works like a charm.

2. Putting holes in the sides of your containers renders better results than no holes (1 - 2" diameter) for both Self-Watering or drip irrigation containers. Don't put any holes in the bottom of the container. Line the inner walls of the containers with landscape fabric.

3. For containers that are not Self-Watering types, a basic potting mix of the following volume ratio works really well: 2 parts compost, 2 parts potting mix, 1 part peat moss, 1 part perlite.

4. For Self-Watering containers, a basic potting mix of the following volume ratio works really well: 3 parts potting mix, 1 part peat moss, 1 part perlite.

5. Using the exact right ratio of macro nutrients in the exact right quantities makes all the difference in the world. If your ratios and quantities are not exactly right, your crop and plant health will suffer dramatically. The differences between being spot on and a bit off are not marginal, but giant differences in plant health and yield; yields will vary by multiples.

6. Fertilizing by using a non-water soluble fert strip works much better than mixing all the non-water soluble ferts into the potting mix. Periodically fertilizing with non water soluble ferts works even better than using a fert strip. Periodically fertilizing by using all water soluble plant ready ferts in your irrigation water works even better than periodically fertilizing with non-water soluble ferts.
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Old December 31, 2016   #14
Join Date: Jun 2013
Location: Wasilla Alaska
Posts: 1,669

Mitch, I am doing vent over rides this year. My vent systems are temperature controlled, but I want them to automatically go off at 4.00AM, 5, and 6, for about 5 minutes. Most diseases incubate in the high humidity that happens at night after a warm day, when the vents shut off for the night. I am not getting up at 4.00 when I am out there so late, so a over ride is the answer.

I also am making sure everything is efficient time-wise, time is money. When lowering plants, it must be fast, so everything will be supported on airplane cable/ guide wires, and strung on tomato spools, and tomahooks, no more uncliping and moving clips.

I will also preweigh several batches of nutrients so I don't have to do it when I am busy.

I cleaned the GH's this fall and will clean them again in the spring before I start them up I am going to be very aggressive with disease control, and disease costs me money and time, which is money money. Greenshield is the best.

I am also going strictly to all 5 gallon containers, two plants per container where I can. In some places a heater, etc, affects my desired layout, so some rows will only have one plant per container.

I also built a GH over creek bottom, black dirt, GOOD STUFF, I will do a side by side experiment, in the ground versus a container. I will have to use slightly different ferts, or strengths. I will get a soil sample done so I can be precise.

I am putting aphid screen over my vents. I control aphids very well with parasitic wasps, but I want prevention rather than a cure.

I have covered all floors, they are either concrete, or fabric. I don't want any dust particles floating around, part of environment management. I also am going to have platforms outside each GH door/ a porch, so dirt can be clicked off of shoes easily. Nobody comes from the field and into a GH, unless they wear overalls or change. Personal scissors & knives, have to be cleaned after use in any given GH Cleanup every day, no plant matter on the floors. Zero tolerance of weeds.

I am using specific fertilizers for tomatoes, peppers, and cucumber, in the past 4-18-38 has served me well, but THEY SAY... peppers and cucs need a bit more N

Anyway, these are things I am wanting to improve, and are areas I want to improve from my current layout.
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Old December 31, 2016   #15
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Join Date: Mar 2014
Location: Mid-Atlantic right on the line of Zone 7a and 7b
Posts: 1,176

Learned that I don't want to fight the July and August heat for my main money crop. So I will seed an early crop in mid March for early May transplant so I can have a "normal" season crop to enjoy and try some new ones and hone technique.
Main money crop will be grafted and ready to transplant first week of July. There is a mom and pop called Re-Divined in Lancaster PA that grafts FOR cheap at $2.25. They will also grow your specific varieties if you send them seeds in advance. I want to see if I can get some hybrid type vigor for yield on heirlooms with the grafting. Will cut down on the number of varieties I grow for production by 75%.
My hope is to avoid having fruit loaded up during the July and early August heat indexes of 100 we seem to get (lots of split fruit this year no matter when, how much, or often I watered). I want to keep the crop going well into the fall, as they will be in my new high tunnel. It will be a double inflated layer, and I intend on adding a heater to extend as far as I can.
I also learned that I too need to screen all opening to keep out bugs. Stink bugs and Army worms kicked my butt this year. I'd rather prevent all together than have to fight them.
I will be moving to an injection system for my fertilizer rather than having to mix up 250 gallon batches of solution. Was an absolute time killer this year.

Last edited by PureHarvest; December 31, 2016 at 11:55 PM.
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