Sunday, 21 December 2008

one tomato, two tomato, three tomato...

Growing tomatoes in pots has been a fun challenge.  I grew one last year, or rather tried to grow one, in our apartment.  I think I bought the thing too late in the season and we didn't get much sun on the balcony, so I got all of ONE tomato the whole season.

This year I was much more pro-active.  After several disastrous tries at growing from seed, I bought two seedlings.  One was an impulse buy from Bunnings because I wanted a small, yellow tomato - a Beam's Yellow Pear.  The other is a big round red tomato called Better Boy.

So how do you support tomatoes in a pot?  The first method I tried was advised by a tomato expert - rig together a frame.  I took a flat off-cut and screwed in two long garden stakes.  On the sides of the stakes I half-screwed in a row of screws.  Then you put the pot between the stakes.  As the tomato grows, you wrap string around the stakes to hold the whole thing together.  On the left you can see the Yellow Pear when it was younger, with just one layer of string (and about to put on another set of string).  At this point I still had a small bamboo stake up the middle for extra support.

Next to it is the young Better Boy.  It's a determinate variety, which means they don't grow quite as large and lanky, so I decided to just put a stake down the middle.

Well I eventually figured out that "I'll just put a stake down the middle" doesn't really work in a pot.  As you can see here, the better boy got pretty lanky.  I tried to tie it to the stake but the stake just flopped over.  It's not easy to see in this photo, but now it's actually tied to the porch column!

The stake-and-string approach, on the other hand, is a winner.  Even though this variety is known for growing big and tall, the frame holds it all together really well.  A few laterals pointed outward and didn't get held back by the string, but they're not too heavy.

But wait, didn't I say three tomatoes?

I mentioned that the Yellow Pear was an impulse buy - I wanted a yellow tomato and I didn't do the research beforehand, I just bought what I saw.  After buying it, I was warned that they're a pretty bland tomato.  I got to harvest my first one about a week ago, and sure enough ... pretty bland ... in fact it was mealy and disgusting. 

It's almost too late to start a new plant ... but not quite.  And so in another fit of impulse buying, I bought another variety of cherry tomato.  Once again, I didn't do my research beforehand, I just snapped it up from Bunnings.  I bought a kind called Tumbler Tom, because they grow flat, which meant I didn't need to buy stakes and I already had a slightly smaller pot that it'd fit into.  No guilt, right?  Just the cost of the plant ($2.50) and bit of potting soil, and with a bit of luck I'll have juicy red cherry tomatoes later on in the season.  From what I read (after the fact) the flavour of these guys is good.  And despite its small size it already has about a dozen flowers on it, which means it's fairly advanced.  It should grow over the side of the pot and down the steps, eventually.

And the other good news is that the Yellow Pear tomato might not be as bad as I originally though.  But that's a story for the next post.  Until then, here are three methods of staking tomatoes in pots:

Two-stake frame: highly recommended
One-stake in the middle: not recommended unless you have a column to tie it too eventually
No stake at all: you just need to buy one of these low-growing mutant varieties!