The most frequent question I was being asked at the Market last Sunday, and in fact for most of the last month at various times, was:
"So how are YOUR tomatoes doing this year?"
It seems that although we may have had near perfect conditions for growing a bumper crop of strawberries this year, the general consensus around the market table was that it was a terrible season for tomatoes. The frequent rains, cloudy days and cooler temps of this summer have slowed down the usual flush of fruit on the tomato vine that we have come to expect and even take for granted, particularly as last season was a pretty good one by all accounts. So if you have been berating yourself, and second guessing your ability to grow even one of the gorgeous red globes, you can rest assured that it is most likely not your fault!
Over the last few years I have been paying particular attention to my tomato growing technique. I have located the best spots in the garden for shelter and sunshine hours, I make sure not to grow tomatoes in the same spot more than once every three years, and I have been working on developing a plant that will grow outdoors with minimal fuss and bother but still produce tasty and bounteous tomatoes.
After careful consideration I came to the conclusion that if I wanted fruit to ripen outdoors and on the vine then cherry tomatoes was my best bet. This ensured that even in our shorter hot seasons I still have a chance at vine ripened fruit. Each year I have been collecting seed from my tomato plants that have adequately survived living in soil, outdoors in all weather with no feeding and no special treatment, and so far so good! This year I have three plants in a single box garden, planted in purchased basic compost from the local garden center. I had a crop of lettuces and one of carrots either side to help shelter the young seedlings, and once the carrots and lettuce had been harvested the tomato plants were well and truly strong enough to fend for themselves.
As you can see from the photos below I have very large and well developed plants. I chose this year not to remove the laterals as is usually recommended. Again this was due to my desire to allow the plant to return to doing what it does best without interference from me. I have more flowers than I can count and with a lovely warm and dry day ahead of us I have some hope that we may begin to see a few tomatoes develop soon. With a current count of 6 cherry toms so far visible over the three plants, we shall see how this progresses in the weeks to come. Obviously if I were to start feeding the plants with super tomato food I would get a faster and more productive response. However this is not my goal here. I hope to have tomato plants that are acclimatised to our cooler temperatures and heavier soil, and that will grow with our natural level of rain fall and without any extra assistance beyond the usual care of an average gardener. Wish me luck!
I am a huge fan of growing vegetables in containers. Owning a 1/4 acre section and large vegetable garden is a luxury long forgotten by most of us. Many modern homes have a mere ribbon of land skirting the house, so growing food for the table may seem an impossibility. Using tubs and buckets to grow food is an excellent way to supplement your diet with the freshest produce you can imagine!
Over the last few years, I have been experimenting with various types of container planting, and I am very happy with the results. I have shared my knowledge with friends and family, and have been pleased to see them have some success as well.
I think the key to truly successful crops (as with many things in life) is to understand that what you get out is directly controlled by what you put in. A container garden is essentially a closed circuit, the plant sends down roots looking for food stores but will eventually come up short. For us to get a healthy and reasonable harvest we must therefore feed and nurture the plant a little more than perhaps a traditional garden would need. That's not to say that we should overdo it either, and any time we attempt to circumvent mother nature we must expect that sometimes she will teach us some valuable lessons! Throughout all my gardening endeavours I try very hard to respect the natural balance of things and to use non-invasive and natural methods where I can. From time to time I have had to resort to more harsh controls but I limit this as much as possible.
One of my favourite things to grow in containers is potatoes. I started doing this because I was fed up with diseased rogue potato plants taking over my main garden beds. Additionally, my soil seems to carry a multitude of potato pathogens, and I was throwing out over a third of my crop with each year being worse than the previous one. The beauty of growing spuds in a bucket is that you can be sure to get all the little ones out and therefore leave none to take off somewhere else, and because you are using fresh potting media each time you reduce the likelihood of disease.
I do not get a massive yield, as the size of the container and its finite nutrients tends to limit the growth, plus I am also guilty of being far too impatient and harvesting too soon! But in the following slideshow; you will see just how easy the process is, and how little maintenance they really need.
Other vegetables that can be successfully grown in tubs and containers include brassicas, some herbs, many types of salad greens, baby carrots and beets, radishes and turnips, tomatoes and capsicum, this list is only as limited as your willingness to give it a go! So much about gardening is simply trial and error and most plants are pretty forgiving of human error. Just make sure you have plenty of drainage, give it regular deep watering, protect the plants from wind and weather and over heating, and you should happily harvest something! Every site will have different conditions and knowing how that will affect your plant of choice is a good piece of info to have. Do some homework first if you are unsure of what your plant needs. Most importantly - have fun with it!
Happy gardening, and may you too live your Goodlife!
I'm Kimberley, and I live in the beautiful South Island of New Zealand. I am very passionate about growing strong healthy plants that enrich us and our environment. Welcome to my place - feel free to look around!