Here is the second “Gardening for PhDs” tutorial- how to set up an Earthbox to grow tomatoes. I won’t go into as much detail as I did here, but I will demonstrate the different needs you’ll have for growing tomatoes, in comparison to herbs. And since all my readers are smart, I’m sure you can figure out how to combine techniques to grow peppers, right?
We all know many reasons for growing our own tomatoes, most of which are related to tastiness, and the non-rubbery texture home garden tomatoes have, in comparison to their (dare we call it? ) relatives that one finds in Minnesota supermarkets in February.
An Earthbox is designed to handle two tomato plants, which will grow and prosper. DH and I actually did the experiment of 2 plants in the ground in the yard vs. 2 plants in an Earthbox one summer. Ground: 3 tomatoes, Earthbox: 40+ tomatoes. You now understand why we haven’t bothered with the ground since. If you want to have more tomato plants (more varieties, etc), get more planters, rather than crowd the box (We did this one year, too, and there’s a reason the experts say to do it the way they do. Believe them.).
Think ahead a little about what kind of tomatoes you like, and what kind you think taste best. It is also good to check if the plants are determinate or indeterminate types when you are pairing them in boxes. Determinate plants will stop growing in height after they reach a certain size, while indeterminate plants don’t. This can be important when planning for your staking needs.
I would recommend not having more than one cherry tomato plant unless you have a household of more than two people, unless you have plenty of time for picking, or you just like teeny tomatoes. I think we had six different varieties of plants this year. This summer I finally really understood the appeal of “beefsteak” type tomatoes. I usually just head down to the Farmer’s Market here in town, and start asking questions about varieties from the plant vendors.
Note some of the following pictures show the Earthbox with a staking system, which we use for our tomatoes, though as you’ll see, traditional tomato cages can also be used to good effect.
Once you have the casters on the box, and you have installed the grate and the watering tube, you’ll add soil to the square holes in two corners, to create the “wick” for the water to reach the soil. Then you’ll fill the reservoir with water through the watering tube, until some water starts coming out the drain hole.
Tomatoes need the extra nutrients supplied by lime or dolomite, so if you got the kit, now is the time to mix your dolomite package with the potting soil.
Get your hands right in there and mix it up. Don’t be afraid to get dirty… this is GARDENING!
Again, fill up the box as full as possible, mounding the soil up over the rim, as shown in the profile view below.
Now, add the plant food/fertilizer strip on top of the soil, in the appropriate position for your tomato plants. This time, you want the fertilizer along the opposite long side of the box from where you will be placing your plants. And yes, I do use Organic fertilizer.
Then, put on the mulch cover. Now you’re ready to plant. Cut your X shape into the mulch cover in the corners opposite the fertilizer strip and watering tube, dig out a hole for the seedling, and push the seedling through the cover.
Here you can see I am planting my tomato seedling. This is a good view of the outriggers for the staking system, which also have places for casters at the bottom. The casters are especially useful in the fall when temperatures dip at night. When there’s danger of frost, we just wheel the tomato plants into the garage overnight.
Water in your seedlings from the top JUST THIS ONCE, and assemble any staking system, or place your tomato cages. Do it now, since it’s hard to do once the tomato plants are bigger.
And all you’ll have to do now is keep the water reservoir full for the season, either with a hose, or your trusty bucket and funnel, or, if you are really not into maintenance, the Earthbox people have come up with a perpetual watering system if you have several boxes. Even we haven’t gone this far yet. We still see the fetching and carrying of buckets as a small part of our fitness routine.
In just a matter of weeks, your plants can look like this:
And you will be the grinning (urban or suburban) farmer(s), not unlike MIL and FIL, here.