The tomato is one of the most cultivated vegetables, a practically indispensable species and which is usually present in the gardens in many varieties, since you can choose between the most common modern ones and others more unusual and unknown because ancient and traditional. in the different territories. Everyone would love to eat home-grown tomatoes, harvested at the right time of ripeness and eaten fresh when their vitamin content is at its peak. Unfortunately, however, not everyone has or has access to a plot of land to cultivate, and in these cases it is necessary to find strategies to cultivate them above ground.
Balcony, roof and patio gardens are no longer a novelty: they have become a common, proven and successful practice that leads to rewarding harvests. The tomato is one of the most suitable vegetables for growing in a container and all varieties, from round to cherries and pears, or others, are suitable for this purpose.
However, compared to tomatoes planted in open ground, special precautions are necessary, since it is a more artificial situation and in which our care plays an even more decisive role, so here is a guide to growing tomatoes in pot, it can of course also be useful to read the general article on tomato cultivation.
The tomato is generally a plant that needs a lot of sun. The weather during the early crop development period can still be cool and humid and good sunshine is needed, especially to prevent disease. Knowing that the planting of tomato plants takes place between April and May, the ideal is that the terrace, the veranda or the patio where the pot with the tomatoes is going to be placed is well lit. preferably with a south-east or south-west exposure, so that they take the light in the morning and afternoon, respectively.
If the space is in the north, then you do not have to give up the garden on the balcony, but you should definitely expect stunted growth of plants and stems that look a little brave, that’s i.e. long but thin. The consequence will inevitably be a drop in plant productivity.
Another parameter not to be underestimated, especially in the city, are the sources of shading caused by other buildings and trees, which could further aggravate the exposure to the north or, on the contrary, attenuate the insolation in those completely South.
The jar: choosing the right container
In the container garden, the container plays a very important role, delimiting the space in which the root system has the possibility of developing. Before planting the tomato, it is worth stopping to choose the pot. Containers for the cultivation of tomatoes can be of different types and shapes, but the most important is their capacity: given the potential development of the plant, which reaches heights of about 2 meters in the ground, it is necessary to take into account the fact that the root system also needs space and soil to take root.
If you opt for round pots, they must have at least a diameter and a height of 30 cm, and the same applies to square pots. You can also put 2 or 3 plants together in rectangular, tall and sturdy pots. For cultivation, fruit crates can also be recycled, provided that they are also fairly melted and resistant, in this case the crates will be lined internally with perforated plastic on the bottom. If you have real wooden crates designed for above-ground gardens, say 1m x 2m, you can plant 6 tomatoes in two rows and make useful combinations with basil, celery, lettuce or parsley.
In terms of materials, plastic containers are undeniably light and do not present any risk of breakage if they fall with the wind, and being waterproof they keep the humidity in the ground longer. On the other hand, terracotta vases are more elegant and can be painted as desired. Wooden ones are less durable but give the garden a nice natural look. Geotextile vases are also very interesting to experiment with. When grown on the balcony or terrace, the plants often have an even greater ornamental value than in the vegetable garden, which should also be taken into account when choosing the container.
Train: the growing medium
The classic universal soil is not enough for the success of their culture, the tomato is a demanding plant in nutrients. The ideal is to mix the soil with the soil of the real field, which also contains the mineral fraction of the soil and thus provides several useful microelements.
Adding mature compost and handfuls of granulated manure is also essential. Speaking of composting, if the patio is large enough, having a composter in which to put organic kitchen waste and the plants themselves is very useful to get a good soil amendment. There are even composters for making worms on the balcony.
In addition to the compost, it is also necessary to drain the pots: at the bottom of the large chests it is better to put a layer of expanded clay, while in the simple pots it is very good to put the classic saucers.
In the open ground, the root system of tomato plants can extend to a depth of one and a half meters, which allows the aerial part to be always well anchored and nourished and to find water in depth, requiring little irrigation. Old farmers say that if you water too much, “the tomatoes will lose their taste”.
Of course, this cannot apply to plants grown in a small space like a vase, in such a situation, we need to water often, in the summer every day. Precautions to be taken at all times, even when growing in pots, are as follows:
- Moisten the base of the plants and not the aerial part to avoid favoring the appearance of fungal diseases such as mildew;
- Use water at room temperature , letting it warm up a bit in the air. Water that comes straight from the tap is actually quite cold and could cause very hot root shock inside a pot exposed to the sun;
- mosquito prevention : on the balcony, watering cans or buckets left particularly full of water may attract these annoying insects, so you can pour drops of Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, a strain suitable for the natural fight against mosquitoes.
Manage watering during the holidays
During the summer months, it is normal to be away from home for the holidays, but a solution must be found so that the cultivated plants do not die. There are special bottles with porous caps, to be filled and placed upside down in the pot, so as to distribute the water gradually, but these do not guarantee long autonomy. If there are a lot of growing pots, it may be a good idea to set up a real drip irrigation system with a timer that allows you to program watering periods.
Mulching is a very advantageous technique for the garden, but even in vases or planters, putting a layer of mulch at the base of the plant can be beneficial. In this case, the objective is not so much to protect against “weeds” as to retain soil moisture longer. If we cannot find straw or wilted grass available, we can use other materials, such as burlap sacks, to protect the soil at the base of our balcony tomatoes.
On terraces or patios that are particularly exposed to the sun, and with white walls that reflect light, plants can be stressed by excessive sunlight and become dehydrated quickly, especially during the hot summer months.
In addition to the possibility of putting a protective shade net, you can spray the tomato plants in pots of kaolin a very fine clay mineral that creates a white patina on the vegetation, protecting it from possible sunburn.
bees on the balcony
Tomatoes also benefit from bees and bumblebees for pollination flowers and, therefore, for fruiting. Compared to the vegetable garden, the balcony is generally a more urban environment and less populated by pollinating insects, so it is good to attract them.
Thus, we give free rein to creativity and the desire for beauty by combining flowering tomato plants particularly adapted to attract these precious insects: cosmetics, zinnias, lavender, borage and others.
Diseases and pests of potato tomato
Tomato diseases and insect pests are the same as those that threaten it in open field crops, but the balcony is notoriously a more artificial environment in which it is difficult to recreate the ecological balance of open spaces. For this reason, pests can manifest themselves more aggressively, and therefore we must always monitor the plants.
It is also advisable to spray macerated nettle, garlic, horsetail in pots to prevent the most frequent problems. We can test green products for defense, such as Bacillus subtilis which acts against fungal diseases, and the pyrethrum against bugs. You can also decide to use the classic copper green only after persistent rain, always reading the labels beforehand to know the dosage and the precautions for use.