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Growing Good Food at Home

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Growing Tomatoes in Open Land, in Containers, or in Raised Beds

Tomato seedlings in pots

When first planning your tomato garden, you should consider the type of land you can tend. If you have a large outside plot of land with the right soil and the right conditions for watering and draining, you might have the ideal situation for planting directly in the ground. If, however, your soil is too sandy or not the right composition, you might want to consider planting in raised beds or in containers or pots. Converting your open-land plot into a usable garden might involve a lot of time and effort better spent considering raised beds or containers.

Growing in Raised Beds

Raised bed gardening in a greenhouse

Raised bed gardening in a greenhouse

Creating raised beds for your tomato garden can be a lot of work the first time you set up your beds, but having raised beds allows you more control over your growing environment. You’ll discover that watering, irrigation, weeding, and even harvesting are much easier, with items closer to your reach and contained in a space that is more manageable than growing in open land. And once you create your raised beds the first time, subsequent years will be easier.

To create nicely contained raised beds for your tomatoes, enclose your raised beds with wooden sides at least eight inches wide—this will help keep the bed together, be tall enough, and make irrigation easier, too. With raised beds, your garden is less likely to contain the seeds of weeds that are often found in garden soil. You’ll minimize the incidence of weeds overall, which will save you time and effort later. Weeding itself is much easier with raised beds, because you don’t have to get down so far on the ground to remove weeds.

  • Annual Tip: To optimize the soil in your raised beds, be sure to amend your soil with composting at least once a year—otherwise, your soil can become less productive for your plants.

If you don’t have the space for growing in open land or in raised beds—let’s say you live in an apartment with no land of your own for a garden, for example—you can grow tomatoes in containers or pots on your balcony, porch, patio, or deck.
One great advantage to container gardening is the ability to move plants around more easily to maximize their exposure to the sun.

    • Tip: If you have trouble moving pots around, because they’re too heavy or too bulky, try putting your pots on slightly raised rolling casters so you can more easily move them around your space.

The potted patio tomato is not uncommon—you just have to know the right way to do container gardening for tomatoes. For example, while weeding is much easier with containers, you have to be more vigilant about watering and irrigation as plants can dry out much faster and your tomatoes can be more prone to rot. Plus, containers can lose important soil nutrients throughout the season, so you might need additional fertilizer.

Container gardening

With container gardening for tomatoes, you have to use really big pots or containers—the bigger, the better. Using a 5-gallon pot for one tomato plant is optimal. Also, don’t put other plants, such as herbs, in the same pot with your tomato plant as they’ll drain the soil of nutrients and will compete with your tomato plant for water.

While many other vegetable seedlings are planted at the same depth as their original store-bought mini-containers, tomato seedlings need to be planted deeper. When planting a tomato seedling, remove the bottom few sets of leaves closest to the base of the stem, and plant the seedling deep in a hole at the center of your container or pot. Deep planting will help encourage the roots to grow and will make your plant sturdier when your tomato plant starts growing.

What to do with your container soil at the end of the season: At the end of your tomato-growing season, the soil in your pots will be spent, which means starting over when you create next year’s garden. Dispose of the soil at the end of the season by dumping the soil somewhere else—in another part of your yard or a place where you won’t be growing plants again.

How do you grow your tomatoes—in open land, in raised beds, or in containers? Why do you prefer your method? Please tell us your tips and tricks for creating an awesome tomato garden.

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