Q. After a two-year layoff because of the gophers, I’ve decided to plant tomatoes again. My planting area is a thirty-inch wide strip between the house and the driveway facing east. This time, I plan to plant them in pulp containers buried in the ground, leaving two inches above the soil surface. The tomatoes will be planted in planting mix with gravel inside and under the containers. My containers are twelve inches wide across at the top. Will this be large enough or should I try to find a larger container?
A. I have several concerns with your plan. The eastern exposure is not the best for tomatoes. Tomatoes, like most of the summer vegetable,s require six hours or more of direct sunlight per day. They also like the heat from the afternoon sun to ripen the tomatoes. In your case, this may be a mute point as you have grown them here before. An eastern exposure is not the recommended location for tomatoes. A twelve-inch by twelve-inch container isn’t big enough for tomato plants as there isn’t enough room for the roots. However, in your scenario, the size of the container doesn’t matter. You’re planting in biodegradable pulp pots so the sides will decompose quickly from the soil moisture. Within eight to ten weeks, all you’ll be left with is the two-inch rim that is above the soil line. This leaves plenty of room for the roots and unfortunately for the gophers to be a problem again. A twenty-four inch by twenty to twenty four inch containers is the ideal size for tomatoes.
You should be able to find pulp pots or those with rigid sides with these dimensions. Before burying the pulps pots, the inside should be lined with chicken or poultry wire, so the majority of the roots are protected from the gophers when the sides decompose. The container size depends on whether you’re planting determinate or indeterminate tomato varieties. This information should be printed somewhere on the variety label. Determinate varieties are often referred to as “bush or patio” tomatoes, because they grow to a fixed mature size, usually four feet and all the tomatoes ripen in a short period, usually about two weeks. Once this first flush of fruit has ripened, the plant set little to no new fruit and the over all plant declines. Many paste or roma tomatoes are determinate varieties. Indeterminate varieties of tomatoes are called “vining” tomatoes. I like to refer to them as the Energizer Bunny tomatoes as they grow and grow and keep growing until the first frost, often reaching ten feet. They will bloom, set new fruit and ripen fruit all at the same time throughout the growing season. Examples of indeterminate varieties are Big Boy, Beef Master, most “cherry” types, Early Girl, and most of the heirloom tomatoes. Personally, I’d used a reusable rigid sided or plastic container rather than a pulp pot and grow them above the ground. Better yet, would be to locate and secure a site in a community garden.