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

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Old September 22, 2018   #1
TomatoDon
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I've probably mentioned, or asked, about this in other posts on other forums, but I still want more feedback.

I'm considering some test patches using rigid black plastic nursery pots, black fabric grow bags, and white fabric grow bags.

I'm eager to see if the aeration of the cloth grow bags will have a noticeable and good effect on the plants. I know I've always gotten root swirling and binding in plastic containers, so observing the fabric pots in comparison should be interesting. I also know that the roots don't need hot black plastic, and probably not black fabric, in the heat of summer, so I'm really looking forward to seeing how well the white fabric does in the hot weather of late July and August.

Now, for size. I know that the more room for roots, the better. But I also know there has to be a point of diminishing returns. For example, I doubt a 100 gallon pot would do any better than a 55 gallon drum. I don't think the roots would fill either one to the point of being a problem, and I don't think the roots would be any more cramped in a 55 or 100 gallon container than they would be in regular spoil that hadn't been dug loosely as part of the planting hole.

I'm not considering 5 gallon containers of either plastic or cloth because that is just too small for indeterminates with a long growing season like mine (Zone 7-8, Memphis area...sub-tropical mid-South).

I think 50 gallon is far too big, but I wonder at what size have you long-time container growers seen that an increase in size doesn't make any real difference. I'm thinking that would be around the 25 gallon size.

In a similar thread I got many replies that mentioned mostly the 10 gallon size, but I don't think that will provide enough soil to keep the roots insulated from our hot weather and 95-100 degree days, and also that the water will evaporate too fast. But if 10 gallon is considered the standard size, then I should be more than adequate using 25 gallons containers. I just don't see much need at this point to go any larger.

I look forward to, and will appreciate, all replies and information gained through your experience.

Don
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Old September 22, 2018   #2
Koala Doug
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How about running a little test next season?



You could buy various sizes of fabric containers and see which one works the best for you in your particular climate. Everybody giving advice will do so based on their own personal observations (and their own climate)... and that might not be applicable to your situation.
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Old September 23, 2018   #3
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I use old plastic coffee cans and cut down laundry detergent containers for my fall crop.
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Old September 23, 2018   #4
zeuspaul
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Tomato roots can grow three or four feet deep and three feet out. 25 gallons might be a point of diminishing returns but there are still benefits beyond 25 gallons. My 40 gallon containers are more stable than my 25 gallon containers. Temperatures are more stable and water retention is better. Larger containers need less care.
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Old September 24, 2018   #5
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Hi Zeuspaul. I agree with all you said. But do you think the production is as good in a 25 gallon container as it is in a 40? And is a 40 as good as growing in the ground?

In other words, will the 25 produce as many tomatoes, and tomatoes as the same size as you would expect from the natural ground?

I have hundreds of feet of 2 x 12 material that I used for raised beds that I took up, so I could make a container from that any size I wanted to, but wood rots, the bottom falls out, and, without handles, they are difficult to move.

The main reason I want them in containers is to start some indeterminates in a greenhouse and have them up and going with blooms and small tomatoes when it's time to transplant outside. I'm trying to avoid transplant shock. My experience is almost all the time I gain starting them in a greenhouse is lost by the delay incurred during transplant shock when setting them out in the real ground. I'm trying to get at least 50 plants producing a couple of weeks before every one else to get a head start on tomato sales by being the first in my area to have them. And 50 is about all I can grow in my greenhouse, anyway.

Thanks.
Don
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Old September 24, 2018   #6
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There are too many variables to know. This year I planted an Early Girl in a 25 and the rest of about 30 various plants in the ground in hopes of an early container yield. No luck. The tomatoes came at the same time. 2/3s of the inground tomatoes did not do well at all although now they are looking better. 1/3 of the in ground did very well. The container started well and then fizzled out.

With good watering diligence and the right fertilizer I think you can get better consistency with a 25. I do better in the ground because I like to plant and forget except for turning on the drip irrigation about every five days.
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Old September 24, 2018   #7
zeuspaul
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On the flip side of the coin given optimum conditions in a container and optimum conditions in the ground I think you would get better overall vigor and production from in the ground with unrestricted root growth and more stable temperatures.

Alternately I have had vigorous plants when roots escape the bottom of a container. Perhaps a wide 20 gallon container with a bottom conducive to root escape would provide better conditions for early growth and then not produce any plant shock as the roots escape.

I have always been a skeptic of fabric containers. I prefer keeping the moisture contained. The air pruning claim seems more like a rationalization.
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Old September 24, 2018   #8
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A couple of the growers here are getting high tunnel houses, which is like a greenhouse, and planting their tomatoes in there, in ground, and taking the plastic off when it heats up. Some claim leaving the plastic on top filters the sun and keep the plants from getting too hot in late summer and the production lasts longer.
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Old September 25, 2018   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TomatoDon View Post
A couple of the growers here are getting high tunnel houses, which is like a greenhouse, and planting their tomatoes in there, in ground, and taking the plastic off when it heats up. Some claim leaving the plastic on top filters the sun and keep the plants from getting too hot in late summer and the production lasts longer.
An unvented greenhouse under plastic is like a wood stove when it is sunny. Even in AK.
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Old September 25, 2018   #10
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True, Mark. The ones they are starting to use here have some way of opening both ends so they can drive tractors through them. I can't remember exactly how they do it. They also have a way to ;ife the side panels up for more ventilation. By the time they do this, it's practically like not even having a greenhouse.

BTW...I really like your operation. I'm very impressed at what you are accomplishing in your greenhouses in such a cold climate. Those tomatoes look good, and I'm assuming they taste just as good as they look. Do you have any idea how many pounds one house, during the peak of production, makes in week? And am curious how many houses you have and how many pounds per week you are harvesting. As a guess, we are probably harvesting about 1,250 pounds a week. A lot of those, however, are sold as Number 2 canning tomatoes. They have to be pretty near flawless to sell to grocery stores, and I'm guessing we sell about 100 pounds a day of really nice looking tomatoes. The amount we have to cull and throw away is heart-breaking, however.
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Old September 25, 2018   #11
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After seeing one of Mark's images of how small a container can be in his greenhouse I left one very late germinated Mat-Su Express in a one gallon pot. It grew well and produced nice fruit but I had to water it waaayyyy too often!
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Old September 25, 2018   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zeuspaul View Post
Tomato roots can grow three or four feet deep and three feet out. 25 gallons might be a point of diminishing returns but there are still benefits beyond 25 gallons. My 40 gallon containers are more stable than my 25 gallon containers. Temperatures are more stable and water retention is better. Larger containers need less care.
I moved my tomatoes in-ground, but I use these containers for peppers, sometimes, 4-6 plants per...I have no idea of their size, any ideas? I was growing 2 tomato plants per container, but supporting them when they got 7' tall was problematic...20180331_143147.jpg
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Old September 26, 2018   #13
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Originally Posted by Koala Doug View Post
How about running a little test next season?



You could buy various sizes of fabric containers and see which one works the best for you in your particular climate. Everybody giving advice will do so based on their own personal observations (and their own climate)... and that might not be applicable to your situation.
I so agree with that ^.
I've been testing 1,2 and 5 gallon felt grow bags the past two seasons with great success. (thick recycled 'felt' bags from
greenhousemegastore) Not wallmart thin shopping bags. Micros in 1 gallon, dwarfs in 2 gallon, and Indies in 5 gallon.
...much better than the 10-15 gallon plastic nursery pots that trees came in. I still use those for snacking cherries...SunGold,
etc. ...but I can do better in the driveway. We had Texas heat this season.
Nice thing about the felt bags is the wicking of moisture. Mine sit in 1/2 inch deep trays so no overwatering but also no wet
feet. Sure my needs are different. I want 36+ dwarfs for comparables and 3 dozen micros I'm moving forward to F7 and F8
now. (this on a deck outside my kitchen door)
The Catskill farm is in-ground grown. Experimenting for your growing conditions is eye-opening what is possible. Never thought
I would see such gorgeous fruit from a two gallon grow bag. The 5 gallon felt far exceeded the 15 gallon plastic pot for my
SunGold, CubanYellowGrape and MagliaRosa.
I've learned so much from AkMark and others by testing no mater the location and climate. Small adjustments.
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Old September 26, 2018   #14
TomatoDon
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My main objective is to have tomatoes at least two weeks earlier than everyone else. If I could accomplish this be starting them in a 1 or 2 gallon container and setting them out with minimal, or no, transplant shock, that would suit me fine.

Every early spring I over-pay and buy a $12 - $15 large Better Boy that has baby tomatoes. It has a plastic cage and looks like it's in about a 2 gallon container. But when they are transplanted, they seem to just sit there for 10-14 days before they take off and start thriving and growing again.

If any of you have some good ideas about getting a head start this way, and then putting them in the ground after the chance of frost has passed, please give me your ideas.

Thanks!
Don
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Old September 26, 2018   #15
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There are many people here more knowledgeable that I am, but I think whatever "head start" you are trying to get is going to be dependent on the ground temp when you plant out. Even though you may be past your frost date, the ground temp still may not be high enough to get them moving....

Is there a magic number? 65-70 deg ground temp? I don't know...
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