By Mark Cullen
Tomatoes are by far the most popular garden vegetable in Canada. They are easily grown just about anywhere, and they love sun and heat. You may think you need a backyard garden to have successful tomato plants, but this is not true. All you really need is a little space and creativity. If you are strapped for space but love tomatoes, there are still ways to grow them. The two most popular methods are half barrels and the relatively new Upside-Down Tomato Planters.
The half barrel is a great choice for growing tomatoes. It is wide and deep enough to support a good healthy tomato plant. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and require a generous quantity of nutrient-rich soil. Drainage is extremely important when growing tomatoes in a container. Drill 7 or 8 half-inch holes in the bottom of the barrel to ensure good drainage. Line the bottom of the barrel with a garden fabric to stop the soil from escaping. Add a layer of gravel to keep the drainage holes free from debris. Fill the container with a vegetable & herb mix.
An Upside-Down Tomato Planter allows you to maximize the vertical space of your growing area. Fill it with the same quality soil mix as above and plant your favourite tomato variety into it. There is no staking with this method as gravity does all the work for you, air circulates freely around the plant and watering is done from above and wicks down into the roots.
What variety of tomato to grow?
Now that we have a couple ways to grow our tomato plants, we must choose a variety. With several hundred varieties of tomatoes grown across Canada choosing the varieties that best suit you and your growing conditions can be a little daunting. However, there are a few varieties that are great coast to coast if there is heat and plenty of sun.
Our favourite varieties are ‘Sweet Million’ cherry tomatoes, ‘Whopper’, a good-sized medium tomato, Big Boy for fruit above average size, and any of the big Beefsteak type tomatoes. Don’t forget about heritage varieties if you want to grow tomatoes that are a little more unique. Heritage varieties have a pedigree that goes back generations – in some cases, a couple of hundred years. Generally, they are full of flavour.
Blight is a common disease to tomatoes. It thrives in warm, humid conditions. The first line of defense against this disease is to support tomato plants to keep the foliage off the soil. My favourite method of support is the spiral tomato stake. There is no ‘tying’ of tomatoes on the stake and twisting the plant around the spiral is fast and easy. Bordo Copper Spray should be applied every couple of weeks in June and July to prevent blight. Apply before symptoms appear as copper is a preventative treatment.
Maintain good air circulation through the tomato plant by removing suckers which grow between the main stem and the branch, as often as twice a week when plants are actively growing.
Remember that all tomatoes love direct sun and lots of heat.
Give it a try – and have fun!