Monday, September 17, 2012

Life & Style: What I Learned about Gardening 2012

Tomatoes growing and ripening in all stages of life. Aren't they gorgeous?!
This post should really be titled: What I Learned about Gardening Tomatoes in Containers 2012, but I thought that was a bit too long. A lot of the information here is useful for any newbie gardener, whether you're gardening in containers or just in the Earth.

Jason and I were incredibly nervous to begin gardening. In fact, I can't even tell you how many times we asked each other, "Are we sure we want to do this?" Now that we're fully in the throes of gardening, I can tell you that we haven't regretted it at all - in fact, we both wonder why we didn't do it last year!

Here in Michigan, if you want to grow tomatoes, you should plant them in little starter cups in mid to late March. While the seed packet may direct you to put four to five seeds in each packet, I would encourage you to only put two. All of the seeds we put in our starter cups grew. When we transplanted each seedling into his own starter cup, we had about 22 seedlings growing. And we only had room for a max of four plants on our balcony. While none of them died on their own, there were a few who stood out as being exemplary. We saved those and tearfully eliminated the rest {And I am not joking here. I do not take it lightly that I brought something into this world only to take it out. It was horrible. Jason and I both cried.}.

We accidentally killed one by taking it out onto the balcony a little early, and it snapped it half. That was also not a very good day. Tears all around. So three plants remained. Once the temperature outside at night was consistently 50 degrees or higher {this was the first week of June for us in Michigan}, we moved the plants to their permanent home: five-gallon buckets.

When you first begin to garden, particularly, if you're container gardening, there are some costs you will incur the first year you should never have to incur again. For us, this included five-gallon buckets, clay pots and tomato cages. Each year, we will expect to incur costs for seeds, soil and fertilizer. We highly, highly recommend organic gardening, and we have been so pleased with Tomato Tone as fertilizer. It's an organic fertilizer, and we both feel this fertilizer has made all the difference in our plants.

Caring for the seedlings and moving them from container to container is relatively easy. Our plants were moved three different times, each time into a bigger home. We watered them enough so the soil would remain moistened. We kept them in a sunny area of our home, and thankfully, Preston didn't mistake them for yummy food.
See that crazy branch with several tomatoes
growing on it? I didn't make sure the
branch was tucked in, and it grew really wildly.
I tucked it in near the top, but it looks a bit
wanky now.
Once they were in the buckets, though, things got a little dicey. This was all mostly due to the fact that we were newbie gardeners and had no clue what we were doing. So here's some tips {some of which I didn't do but will definitely be doing next year} you could follow to ensure your container tomatoes grow nicely and happily:
  • Water the plants every day there is no rain.
  • Buy plant trays for the bottom of the buckets. This will help lessen the amount of water that drips onto your neighbor's balcony {oops, sorry!} and will also assist in keeping the plants watered if you go on a vacation or are unable to water them for a day for another reason.
  • Don't worry about fertilizing as much as your fertilizer bag may recommend. On average, we fertilized every three weeks as opposed to every other week.
  • Be extremely diligent in ensuring all of the various branches of your plant are within the cage. This will mean checking every single day {if you have to miss a day, no worries} to ensure they're all growing within the cage. At some point, the branches will be too big for you to scoot them under and into the cage. Trust me, I've been done there, done that.
  • Wind can be a scary, scary thing for tomato plants. We found it best to tie the cages to our balcony rails. Since we've done this, our plants have not been tipped over once. Before that, on very windy days, our tomato plants would tip and fall over. We lost an unripe tomato or two due to this {and once again, we were very sad about that}.
  • Expect your plant to grow too high for your cage. I don't really know what we can do about this since we bought the biggest cages our local specialty gardening store offered. Our plants grew about two feet higher than the cage, so the branches above the cage are very much all over the place. But at least if you expect it, you may not be as surprised, like we were.
  • Your tomato plant may end up with some dead leaves/branches on it. It would be handy to have a pair of gardening clippers to clip off the dead debris {I plan to ask for some as a Christmas gift this year}. Clipping off the dead debris probably won't make your tomatoes grow any better, but it will definitely make the plant look better.
Can you see where the cage ends?
Our plants grew very high above the cage!
All in all, growing tomato plants in containers is really easy. As newbie gardeners, we were successful in growing them and enjoying fresh tomatoes every week throughout August and now into September.

While we were unable to garden on a plot of land this summer, mostly due to the fact that we live in an apartment on the third floor, we are anticipating that we may be able to garden on a plot of land next summer. If we do that, we plan to continue container gardening our tomatoes on our balcony.

I was never able to find one solid gardening book about container gardening, but I cannot recommend Pinterest enough. You should be able to find a ton of information about whatever you want to grow there, however you want to grow it.

No comments: