NGA Articles: Tomatoes in a Can

Tomatoes in a Can (cont)

By: Beth Marie Renaud

Planting

Once the container is in place, fill it to within 2 inches of the top with soilless potting mix. Mix a controlled-release fertilizer into the top 3 inches of soil to feed the plants through late summer. If you live in an area with an extended growing season, you may have to supplement feedings with a water-soluble fertilizer (at the recommended rate) when growth slows in late summer. For an organic option, feed plants twice a week with fish emulsion.

The size of the container allows you to grow any full-size indeterminate variety. In each container, set out two transplants (with six to eight leaves each), preferably disease-resistant hybrids such as 'Big Beef' or 'Better Boy'. Look for varieties with the code letters VFNTA; these signify their resistance to verticillium and fusarium fungal diseases, nematodes, tobacco mosaic virus, and alternaria leaf spot. In the South, try heat-tolerant varieties such as 'Arkansas Traveler' and 'Tropic'. Where the growing season is short, you may want to use strong determinate varieties such as 'Celebrity' and 'Solar Set', because they will fruit earlier, or try early-fruiting indeterminate varieties such as 'Early Pick' and 'Stupice'.

After planting, water transplants well, then set up a cage to give them support as they grow. Measure the circumference of the rim of your container. Cut an 8-foot-wide piece of steel reinforcing wire to the size of the circumference plus 6 inches for overlap. Use wire with 6-inch holes so you can easily stick your hands into the cage to water and prune the plants and harvest the fruits. Wrap the cage around the container with the lower edge on the ground, then secure the cut ends with wire. For support, drive two steel fence posts into the ground next to the cage and attach them to the cage with wire.

Care and Feeding

If you set out your plants early in the season, wrap two layers of clear plastic around the cage and fold it over the top, leaving an air hole for ventilation. Remove the plastic when daytime temperatures average 70° F.

Water plants when the top 3 to 4 inches of soil are dry. Avoid wetting the foliage, and soak the soil until you see water draining through the bottom of the container. After the plants begin to set fruit, water them daily, especially on hot, windy days.

When branches extend beyond the cylinder, tuck them back inside. If you live where summers are hot, don't prune the plants; they need to develop foliage to shade the fruit from strong sun. In cooler regions, pruning will help maximize fruit production. Pinch back suckers as they grow, and prune the tips of growing stems late in the season, removing buds that won't have time to bloom. Also remove fruit before the first frost and either eat them as green tomatoes or ripen them indoors by wrapping the fruits in newspaper and keeping them in a 70° F room.

If an early frost threatens to stall tomato production, Jim Wilson recommends covering the cylinder with an old blanket. Lifting it on and off with two long hoe or shovel handles helps to minimize damage to branches and fruit.


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