Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.
Normally, I consider myself a sane gardener, or at least one who doesn’t fall prey to cheap tricks and gimmicks. Late night ads claiming I’ll only have to water my houseplants once a month if I use this globe or mow down an oak forest with a push behind machine don’t have me reaching for the phone, even if they promise to throw in a set of Ginsu knives if I act quickly.
Call me old fashioned, but I think that if I don’t water my houseplants, they should do what they’ve always done: curl up and die. But recently I’ve fallen from the path of purity, and caved into a gardening fad, one that I’ve been laughing at since it first appeared in the Sunday newspaper magazines and advertising cards that litter my mailbox. In this moment of weakness, I turned my gardening upside down.
Literally. By planting a tomato into one of those hanging bags, I took my first step into experimenting with gravity and the forces of nature. I did this for a demonstration video on how to plant tomatoes, including the cart wheeled container because so many people have asked me about it.
Once the tomato was planted, my nurturing instincts took over, and I just had to keep the thing alive – after all, it’s not the plant’s fault it now hangs suspended from a soft plastic bag. Besides, I want to see what all the hoopla is about. So now it dangles in my backyard, more bag than plant this early in the season, a tomato in suspended animation.
I’ve been reading about these containers since their popularity soared last year, and know that the biggest drawback is that they weigh so much; the plant, wet soil, and fruit lead to disaster if the Topsy-Turvy comes tumbling down. Customer comments and manufacturers warn you not to place this in a windy spot for this reason, which pretty much rules out every square-inch of Colorado.
So we make do, by choosing a strong support beam to hang the plant from, and use a hook big enough for the task; small china-cup hooks don’t cut it.
Choose what you plant wisely, going with compact plants with smaller tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes or salad slicers, instead of giant beefsteaks. Caring for it should be similar to other vegetables in containers, easy as long as you have a plan and outdoor space.
Tomatoes need six to eight hours of sunlight daily, so put your plant in the sunniest location you have, adding supplemental light if you’re and apartment dweller whose balcony is on the north side of the building.
Prevent problems with soil pests or salt build up by using fresh, clean potting soil; don’t reuse soil left over from last year. Once you’ve planted your pots, remember they’re now dependent upon you to provide for their needs. Containerized plants need water more often, requiring a drink at least once or, in very hot weather, twice per day.
You need to feed them too, which means fertilizer, because they can’t access naturally occurring nutrients. Balanced fertilizers are best; if you’d like to add a timed release into your soil mix, blend it in well before planting, following the ratios for mixing on the label.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that adding slow release fertilizer will take care of the plant all summer; warm temperatures and moist soil will exhaust that fertilizer more quickly than the package suggests. Plan on giving it a small boost of liquid fertilizer in mid season, just as it begins to produce fruit.
Plenty of tomatoes do well in containers. Try Early Girl or Celebrity for slicers, Sweet 100 or Tomatoberry for cherries. The list for tomatoes in containers is a long one; it’s best to check out the habit of the plant before you buy it.