Several decades’ worth of growing tomatoes across different regions of the United States has taught me a thing or two when it comes to growing big, sweet, juicy fruit. Almost every trick, tip and piece of advice I read, I tried. And of everything that failed, succeeded, or didn’t make a lick of difference, two things stand out in my mind. One is beer and the other bone.
Read on and learn two secrets to growing the juiciest, sweetest tomatoes and valuable tips for growing tomatoes in containers.
Growing Tomatoes With Bone Meal
Using bone meal in your tomato plants’ soil is more good practice than secret, but many gardeners remain unaware of the benefits a good cup of organic bone meal can provide.
Bone meal is commonly used as an organic fertilizer, giving tomato plants a healthy dose of phosphorus, calcium and nitrogen. In addition to feeding the plant, bone meal regulates the absorption of water, which can be a real lifesaver during periods of heavy or light rainfall.
When tomato plants are under- or over-watered, vital nutrients aren’t dispersed and absorbed properly throughout the plant, and can result in a condition called blossom end-rot. One problem with plants that have blossom end-rot is that by the time it’s apparent, the rot has affected all of the existing tomatoes and unripened fruit.
Blossom end-rot can be stopped, but is extremely difficult to reverse on fruits that already show a black, rotting spot on the bottom.
Prevent blossom end-rot by keeping soil evenly moist with organic bone meal. Add about a quarter cup to the soil of potted tomatoes, 1 to 1.5 inches below the surface. Check the back of the package for exact measurements and instructions, giving the tomatoes a thorough watering once finished.
Supplementing tomato plants with bone meal to protect against droughts and over-watering need only be done once, but the benefits will last an entire season long. In addition to preventing blossom end-rot, keeping your tomato plants’ soil evenly moist can help prevent the tomatoes from cracking when they absorb water too fast during heavy rainfalls or following dry conditions.
Growing Tomatoes With Beer
This next tip is controversial because by many accounts alcohol is detrimental to the health of plants. But when kid-me read in an obscure agricultural journal that the secret to growing sweet and juicy tomatoes, was to empty a can of (room temperature) beer at the plant’s roots during the first week of flowering, I had to try it.
After personally testing the theory many times with various types of beers, tomato species, and always an alcohol-free control plant over the course of many years, I found it to be true.
For whatever reason, if you pour a can of beer on the base of a tomato plant at the roots, during the first week of flowering, the resulting tomatoes will be sweet, juicy, and bursting with flavor.
There are a couple important things to remember when giving your tomato plant a beer. Prevent the plant from going into shock by ensuring the beer is not cold when you pour it on the roots – room temperature, flat beer is preferable.
From personal experience stronger, darker, hoppier beers work best, but if all you have in your fridge is light beer that’s alright. Also, don’t continue giving your plants beer, this is a one-time occurrence that should happen during the first week of flowering or not at all.
Tips for Growing Tomatoes in Containers
Keep in mind that all gardening tips are subject to your specific region of the country, growing conditions, plant species, and other factors. The Bonnie Plants Tomato Chooser or Cornell University’s Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners are great options to help you choose.
If you want to reap the best harvest possible, do your research (of which this is only part). Below are tomato-specific care tips for container gardening:
- Choose the right tomato variety for your space, region and needs.
- Tomatoes need 6 – 8 hours of sun daily for the best fruit, and enjoy warm soil temperatures.
- Use black pots for your container-grown tomatoes to absorb heat while they sit in the sun.
- Tomatoes like to be planted deeper than the average plant so a healthy root system develops along the full stem.
- Don’t remove leaves that are shading the fruit, they help prevent sunscald.
- Container grown tomatoes typically require more watering than in-ground tomatoes and they like to be soaked. Try self-watering planters if you think you need the extra help.
- Don’t use old soil for new tomatoes and clean your old tomato containers (or pepper, eggplant or potato for that matter) well before reusing to prevent fungal problems from developing.
Good luck and happy growing!