Tomatoes can be wonderful to grow, but for the novice gardener they can be frustrating. We often hear about fellow gardeners who’s tomatoes won’t produce, or will only grow very small fruit. Are you struggling to grow large beautiful tomatoes? Do you have leafy tomato plants with very little fruit?
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You can grow Tomatoes in a small garden and have an amazing tomato harvest throughout the summer. This guide to growing tomatoes in a small garden will teach you everything you need to know on how to produce a bountiful tomato harvest every year. This guide is applicable to both container gardening and raised beds.
Tomatoes can be grown in any size garden. In a small garden you can have a huge harvest of big juicy tomatoes. By starting with the right soil, light, and consistent watering, you can grow impressive large tomatoes, sweet cherry tomatoes or any kind of tomato you wish.
We know the struggle is real sometimes to get your beautiful green tomato plants to produce the large impressive tomatoes you see on the seed packet. Follow our easy steps below (with a few little garden house secrets thrown in) to get the tomato harvest of your dreams.
This summer at the little garden house, we have grown a variety of tomatoes in a variety of containers we also have a few tomatoes in our raised beds. We are ready to harvest, and wanted to share our steps for growing large healthy tomatoes.
In this article we will take you through all the steps of growing tomatoes in a small garden. From seed to harvest. If you are purchasing tomatoes you can skip the first step, although knowing what makes the seedling happy may help you select the best tomato plants at the nursery.
1. Start your tomatoes in a water retaining soil
This is our #1 secret to growing tomatoes that PRODUCE! Tomatoes need really consistent watering, but they hate wet feet. The perfect balance can be achieved one of two ways
- The hard way
- Start the tomatoes in a regular potting soil and soak water regularly never allowing the roots to sit in water.
- Our easier method
- Add a water retaining substance to the seed starting mix
- Add some water retentive garden soil such as a clay
- You could also add lots of corn starch to the soil for a similar effect
- This allows you to use a heating mat without drying out your plants too quickly. It’s all about balance. (See step 2 for more on warmth)
The key here is the seedlings should NEVER DRY OUT! The different methods above will ensure this, but adding some clay or water retaining substance will ensure it.
We start tomatoes on our kitchen windowsill. We prefer to use a heating mat, but it’s not required. If you live in a cold area it’s a nice addition to keep your seedlings nice and toasty. You can start tomatoes anywhere that has natural light and warmth. A nice sunny windowsill is perfect. If you have a greenhouse you can do this of course. As we have a small garden, our kitchen pop out window is our green house.
Again when transferring seedlings, bring the original soil and add to more water retaining soil. Never let the soil stay soggy or leave the plant sitting in water for too long. But it should stay hydrated. Once it’s growing into a medium size seedling you can start feeding it a nice tomato food. Don’t overdo it. We like Old Truck Organics Tomato and vegetable feed. Be VERY sparing with this. You can also make a borage tea which tomatoes LOVE.
2. Keep your plants warm when starting and harden off gradually
Tomatoes like to be warm. You can keep them toasty by using a simple gardeners heating mat when they are seedlings, and then transferring them into black plastic pots. The black pots will stay warm in the sun. The water retaining soil you used in step 1 will provide the perfect balance of hydration and warmth for these baby plants.
An extra benefit of this is that you are reusing pots from the nursery that would be thrown away. Keep all your pots that you get with new plants for growing seedlings. If you ever have too many an earth friendly option is to donate them to a nursery or post them online for free. Gardeners are always in need of pots!
As you move your baby tomatoes outdoors, do it very gradually, a little more each day. This process is called hardening off and can be tricky. Don’t be in a rush, and set an alarm if necessary so you don’t forget about them and wake up to very sad tomato plants.
3. Add soil with drainage when you repot
Once you are ready to put your tomatoes into their final home, you want to add a soil with good drainage. We recommend adding a nutritious soil such as fir mulch and a heavy layer of a top mulch.
Tomatoes can be grown in raised beds, or in a variety of containers. The larger the container the more space your tomato will have to grow. We have grown tomatoes in everything from black plastic pots to unvarnished ceramic pots, varnished ceramic pots and wooden half wine barrels.
If you plan to put your tomato in a very very large pot such as a wine barrel, It may be wise to gradually increase the size of the small plastic pots before you transfer the tomato into the wine barrel.
This is because if you put a very small tomato into a very very large container, the roots will not be able to grow fast enough to fill the container and a lot of the water and nutrition that you give the plant will sit in the soil outside of the root boundary. You may be watering very consistently but not actually giving the water to the plant itself.
Another option is to put multiple tomatoes into a very large part. We put three Azorean Red tomatoes into a half wine barrel, they are all thriving together.
To transfer your tomato, carefully remove the plant from the smaller pot. Hold by leaves and turn upside down holding the soil for smaller plants. For larger plants use a trowel to dig out of the pot. Do not pull on the plant by it’s stem as you could crush it.
Then sprinkle mycorrhizal fungi around the outside of the soil. This will encourage the roots to grow out into the new soil.
Dig a good size hole in the new pot, I like to pre-water this a little and add a little tomato food before I put the plant in.
Give the new pot a very good watering until you see the water running from the base of the pot. Then add a good 2 inch (at least) layer of a good quality mulch to the top of the pot to hold the water in.
Home made compost is wonderful and we also love Kellogg Organic Grow mulch. We mention this in almost every post, but we have honestly used it for about 7 years now and have never found anything with better quality.
Put your pots in a high traffic sunny area! Somewhere you walk past a lot, this will ensure the highest level of care and guarantee you remember to water, or notice if they are looking neglected.
4. Feed regularly with high quality tomato food
Look for a tomato food that is high in potash and calcium. There’s lots of nitrogen rotting into the soil through the mulch that you have added, and although the plant needs nitrogen the more nitrogen that you add more leaves you will have. What you really want though it’s tomatoes right?
The plant will produce more fruit if it has lots of potassium and calcium. You can achieve this through adding a high-quality tomato food such as old truck organics tomato and vegetable food, or alternatively if you can create your own compost and make sure you add him things like egg shells for calcium and wood ash (cooled) for potassium. You can also add Epsom salts (yes the kind you use in the bath but do you use ones without any essential oils in them) to add magnesium which the tomato will also appreciate. ￼
Tomatoes also love borage, which is a lovely large leafed plant that you can grow in your garden and then simply cut off the leaves and use them as mulch under your tomato or create a borage ‘tea’ (for the plants only not for humans) by soaking the leaves and then feed your tomato with water.
5. Stem and branch care
Especially if you are taking very good care of your tomatoes you were going to see a lot of growth. Thick stems and large branches need lots of support, if they do not get this your tomato will flop over and possibly break.
We use simple circular tomato supports from Ace Hardware. You can get them in a really cool colors or you could simply make your own with some bamboo sticks and some string. Either way make sure your tomatoes are fully supported for the best results. Adding the support sooner is better than later, as you can easily break branches by trying to add support to an already ‘flopped’ plant.
If like us you only had a couple of supports available and lots and lots of tomato plants, one option is to put the supports on a few of the plants and then cluster all the pots together so they can and on each other a little. This year we had more baby tomatoes than we had space for, there are tomatoes growing all over the garden!
’Suckers’ Are the little leaves that start to pop up in my elbow of the branch, where the branch meets the main stem. As you start to see these appear pinch them out. We think the easiest way to do this is simply with your fingers. Doing this by hand reduces the chance of damaging the tomato stem by getting sharp tools too close to the stem.
Harvest the tomatoes when they are nice and ripe, don’t pick too soon make sure that it is fully red. If your tomatoes are down at the bottom of the stem you can use rocks or other materials to keep the tomato off the soil. This will stop the tomatoes from rotting.
The secret to growing large tomatoes in a small garden is the perfect balance of moisture and warmth. Either purchase healthy plants or follow our steps to start your tomatoes off right.
No matter how small your space, you can grow tomatoes for the perfect soup, caprese salad or salsa! Tomatoes do wonderfully in many types of containers. We have had a wonderful crop of tomatoes this summer and you can grow them too!
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