New Upside Down Tomato Planters

One of my new tomato planters

One of my new tomato planters

A few years ago I made my own upside down tomato planters from fabric and wire baskets. They ended up working fabulously well and lasted for 3 seasons, but this spring I decided that they were looking a little worn out. Time for new planters.

I took three pails which I already had and drilled a one inch hole in the bottom of each. Then I drilled out a spot where there had once been a handle and used a coat hanger to make a new handle. I decided that the red color wasn’t right, so I spray painted them in a new moss green.

To place the tomato plants in the pail I first wrapped them with saran wrap, then gently poked them through the hole until they were safely through. I added soil and adjusted until the plants were at the correct depth. After adding more moisture control soil, I  planted a wave petunia on top. Overall I think the new planters turned out pretty well and they cost me only $10 for the paint (which I could have done without).

Pails

Pails

Drilling holes
Drilling holes

Add the coat hanger
Add the coat hanger

Wrap and insert the tomato plant
Wrap and insert the tomato plant

Add a petunia and voila
Add a petunia and voila

 

 

 

 

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Baked Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes

At the end of the growing season I had a large container of cherry tomatoes (thanks to my very productive Tumblers) and decided that I needed to find a new recipe. I had simply been popping them in my mouth every time I opened the fridge door. At that rate I wasn’t going to get them all eaten, so I decided to try baking them and having them as a side dish. Here’s the delicious result.

Recipe:

Cherry tomatoes

3 cloves garlic

fresh thyme and chives

fresh ground pepper

1 tbsp olive oil, drizzled

1 tbsp lemon juice, drizzled

Bake at 350F for 20 minutes and enjoy

Product Review: The Plant Nanny

Plant Nanny

I don’t get too excited about products for the garden unless they help me solve a problem. If they help me solve the problem and cost only a few dollars, then I get very excited. The Plant Nanny is one of those products.

I bought four of them from LeeValley this year, planning to use them to solve the difficulty I had encountered when watering my upside down tomato planters. I grow Tumbler tomatoes in my homemade planters, with a tomato plant growing from the bottom and a wave petunia cascading from the top.

Last year I found that when I watered the hanging planters much of the water simply flowed through and out the bottom. The grass grew green and tall directly under my planters.

Over time the planters soil became compacted, and I wasn’t confident that the petunias were getting as much water and fertilize as the tomatoes, or vice versa. Not only that, I had to water them virtually every day, and sometimes morning and evening if the weather was particularly hot.

The Plant Nanny solved this problem flawlessly. This simple clay funnel slowly feeds water to the soil, encouraging the plants to send their roots to wrap around the clay and ensure a constant supply of water.

You fill a pop bottle, any size, with water or water with fertilizer, screw it onto the plastic insert and slide it into the clay funnel. Place the funnel into the soil and you’re good to go. I find that a one litre bottle is perfect for my containers and lasts for about 2-3 days depending on the conditions.

On Fertilizer Fridays I add a tsp of all purpose fertilizer to the water. Fertilizer Fridays is what I call my weekly feeding day – it helps me keep track of when to add fertilizer to my watering schedule.

Kudos to the Plant Nanny for developing a simple solution to an age-old problem.

Six Weeks From Seed to Six Inches

Tumbler Tomatoes

I started my tomatoes indoors on March 20, 2011 and transferred them to their own pots on April 8th. This week it was warm enough (ok, just barely) to start putting them outside a few hours every day.

The Tumblers are doing great; I’ve already transplanted some of them to larger pots as you can see in the photo. I made sure to plant then even deeper in the new pot, burying another 2-3 inches of the central stalk.

When I put the tomatoes out to harden them off, generally about two weeks before last frost, I begin by only exposing them for a couple of hours per day. Ideally they shouldn’t get any significant wind or direct sunlight for the first while. Hardening off is critical to the success of seedlings which have been raised in a safe indoor environment devoid of significant air circulation and UV radiation.

My grocery store began using these new non-refillable water bottles a few months ago. The deposit is a paltry twenty-five cents, so I decided they would make great cloches for the bigger tomatoes. I use the top of a juice bottle for the smaller ones.

It’s exciting to think that I’ll be able to transplant many of my seedlings to the garden in only a couple of weeks!

I planted the tomatoes in a large flat on March 20th

Pricking out on April 8th

Tomatoes Ready to Harden Off Outdoors April 28th

Eight Weeks and Counting (to last frost)

Starting to get a bit crowded already

Right now is the easiest period of seed starting – those quiet first few weeks before anything has begun to germinate. Once things start to grow, it takes a whole lot more work and energy to keep all of the tiny plants happy and healthy. 

Yesterday (on the spring solstice) I planted my tomato seeds and my Spanish onions. 

I started by soaking my pots from the bottom a few hours in advance of placing the seeds. This gives the planting medium a chance to be thoroughly moistened, which is critically important to germination. 

I like to use the bottom of a similar pot as a guide to mark the seeding holes, and a pencil with an elastic wrapped around it to control the depth. Maybe I’m just a bit retentive, but I like the look of evenly spaced plants. 

Onions aren’t keen on being transplanted as they develop so I planted four in each four inch pot, and they’ll stay there until it’s time to be transferred outside. 

I dropped two tiny onion seeds in each 1/4 inch (5 mm) deep hole and covered them with sand. Labelling each and every pot is so important that I can’t stress it enough. You may think you’ll be able to tell one from another a few months from now, but don’t count on it. 

These eight pots (32 plants once I remove any duplicates that come up in the same hole) were placed under my grow light and covered with plastic to help keep the soil moist until they germinate. 

Tomatoes need to be started well in advance, as they take a good eight weeks to grow sturdy enough to be transplanted outside. I love tomatoes, so plant four different varieties to enjoy; three are bush varieties and one is a staking tomato. More about that in a later post. 

Using a pencil to make a trough the length of my flat, I placed 9-10 seeds in each. I’m hoping for 50% germination, but I’ll pinch out and transplant any successful seedlings as soon as they have a set of true leaves. That’ll be in a few weeks, and I’ll blog about that when the time comes. 

Truth be told, I don’t need that many tomato plants, but I can’t help but plant more than I should. I’ve never had a friend or neighbour turn down a free tomato plant, and it never hurts to give away what you have excess of. 

Once the tomato seeds were sown, I placed them under the lights and next to the peppers from last week. They should germinate within the next 7-10 days. 

It’s starting to get crowded already under my lights and I’ve only just begun!

Update: Upside-Down Tomato Planters

Tumbler Tomatoes

This year I made three hanging planters and tried the “Topsy Turvy” method of growing tomatoes. Topsy Turvy is a brand name which has become associated with this type of planter, but there are other brands and numerous self-made models on the web, including my design in my April 2010 blog post.

See April 2010 Making an Upside Tomato Planter

Down Having done some research on cultivars to use, I opted for the Tumbler tomato because of its suitability to growing in containers. In my raised beds I planted a Tumbler among my regular Roma tomatoes to use as a comparison.

Two of the three plants in my upside down planters have done remarkably well; the third has suffered from poor rooting from day one. I suspect that I didn’t plant it deep enough initially, as it has never thrived. It has produced a number of tomatoes despite it lack of vitality, but it’s hanging on (literally) by a straggly thread.

A clear disadvantage to the reverse planter is that it requires a significant amount of watering as compared to the traditional method. This would be expected given that the water can run out and/or evaporate from the bottom of the planter with relative ease. I’m sure much of the water consumption could be attributed to the voracious thirst of the wave petunia I placed in the top of each planter; the petunias have grown to produce a massive display of colorful blooms.

On the positive side, I’ve had no problem with any of the typical disease and pests that affect the plants grown in the ground. My traditionally-grown plant is similar in size but spotted with a mild case of blight.

I’ve been feeding my tomatoes on a regular “Fertilizer Friday” schedule, despite having used a high quality planting soil with fertilizer incorporated. Tomatoes can be fairly heavy feeders, particularly while they are producing.

Overall I’ve been happy with the outcome. I’ve been plucking fruit on a daily basis since late June and there appears to be no end in sight to the flowering. My Romas won’t be ready for several more weeks, so having the bite-size Tumblers to munch on is a treat.

May 2010

June 2010

July 2010

July 2010

These planters were filled in May with one wave petunia

These wave petunias have been outstanding

Eating Fresh: A Raw Deal

 

Tumbler Tomatoes

My favourite time of the growing season is when I start to eat the fresh produce that’s I’ve affectionately tended since spring. Although I’ve already been into my herb garden for over a month and eating lettuce for several weeks, this was the first week I was able to enjoy some of the slower to develop vegetables.

My Tumbler tomatoes, both in the upside down planters and my regular tomato box, have been producing a few ripe red fruit each day. Sliced on a hummus and vegetable tortilla, the tomatoes are like a ray of sunshine caught in a tender juicy package.

My Mr. Big pods are long, plump, and full of sweet green peas. Any pods lower than a foot off the ground have been meticulously plucked by my dog and gleefully consumed while I’m not watching. It’s the price I pay for having taught her where they come from.

I pulled and peeled the first of sixty garlic bulbs which are now two seasons old. I’ve decided that garlic cloves pulled fresh from the garden and added to a salad are one of the finest things in life.

The second finest is vine-ripened peppers, and I can start picking my Banana peppers any time now. The more I pick, the more the plant will produce.

My bok choy and spinach have been struggling, primarily because of the feisty nature of local sparrows that appear to have an insatiable hunger for leafy dark greens. Those plants that I covered with wire mesh are toiling away and should be ready in coming weeks.

There’s a certain melencholy that comes with the beginning of the harvest season. Days are getting shorter, the sun’s a bit lower on the horizon, and it won’t be long before the peas are done, the lettuce bolts and the herbs lose their best flavor. I have to remind myself that there are still beans to come (another puppy favorite), potatoes to harvest and my personal favorite: juicy carrots to eat fresh and raw from the soil.