When I was a kid, my mother grew tomatoes and we always had as many as we could eat in the summer. But so far, I am a complete failure at growing tomatoes. One place we lived, the pheasants would come and peck them full of holes as soon as they started to get ripe. Here, it took me several years to get over my ingrained northern mentality that June is planting time.
This year I was on the ball and started thinking about tomatoes in February, triggered by ads on TV for the “Topsy-Turvy Tomato Grower” (search for “as seen on TV”). It’s basically a plastic bag with a handle and you stick the tomato plant up through an opening in the bottom so the roots are in the bag and the plant hangs downward. Then you add dirt, hang it anywhere you like, and just water. The tomatoes don’t trail on the ground and rot and, the ad said, the roots stay warm. Well, they were 2 for $20 and that seemed a little steep for what appears to be just a plastic bag. I thought about doing the same thing with plastic grocery bags (maybe doubled) but was afraid that that plastic wouldn’t last the growing season. In the end, I planted my tomatoes in pots which I put in the only place that gets sun all day long, the concrete steps into the garage on the side of the house. I thought, “If they like to have warm roots, this will do it.” What was I thinking? Warm is one thing, 100 degrees on sunny concrete steps is another. I also hedged my bets by planting four kinds, Early Girl, JS 2000, Golden Jublilee, and another that has lost its name tag. But I only had one big pot, and I was in a cheapskate mood, so I put 2 plants in a 5-gallon pot and the others in 1-gallon pots. I knew I would have to water them every day and I’ve done pretty well at doing that (if you consider finding the tomato plants all wilted a couple dozen times doing well). I had to get saucers early on to catch the water that ran out of the bottom of the pots so that the plants could soak it up at their leisure. (At this point they are completely rootbound and they would be a little happier if I watered them twice a day, but I don’t seem to be able to adapt to that.)
But (you knew there was a “but” coming) I have gotten very few tomatoes. I was feeding them Miracle Gro at first, then decided that to get tomatoes, you need to start with flowers, so I switched to Bloom Booster. They are blooming but not to any exciting degree, and they just aren’t setting fruit. I have gotten fewer than 10 tomatoes, mostly golf-ball-sized. I know Early Girl isn’t a big tomato but this is ridiculous.
I also recall from reading seed catalogs that Early Girl is supposed to take 55 days, which I assumed was from seed to ripe tomato. Well, this plant, which I bought well established, took at least 6 weeks to produce a teeny tomato and then it took another month to get ripe. I may have exaggerated the time some in my mind, but not very much.
I think the plants in the smaller pots have not had any tomatoes (it’s hard to tell because the vines are all tangled up now, which also prevents me from moving them somewhere cooler). So stay away from pots, and if you use pots, stay away from 1-gallon pots.
I also discovered that yellow tomatoes don’t really do it for me. They taste just like a “real” tomato but I guess part of the experience for me needs to be the redness.
The wilting has probably been a bad thing too. The plants always come back once they get water but I think whatever flowers were blooming or in bud at the time are toast (literally).
The cherry tomatoes, which are planted in the ground, are doing well compared to the “big” tomatoes, at least in terms of number of tomatoes. But they are coming out anywhere from cherry size to raisin size. A raisin tomato is really all skin and not very satisfying. But maybe I should collect the seeds — this could be a mutation that the seed companies would love to get their hands on.