If you’ve always wanted to grow tomatoes but don’t have the space or time for creating an entire garden, you need to try growing tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets!
Not only can you grow nearly any variety you like, it’s amazingly simple and easy to do. Even better, it can be done almost anywhere. In a tiny city lot, on a sunny patio, a roof-top garden – or a big backyard!
The advantages don’t stop there either. Growing tomatoes in buckets helps to keep pests and disease at bay too. In fact, because fresh soil is used each year, it greatly reduces the chances for two diseases that hit tomatoes hard – black rot and tomato blight.
And last but not least, and perhaps best of all, growing in 5 gallon buckets eliminates one of the most dreaded chores of all – weeding!
Growing Tomatoes In 5 Gallon Buckets
We have actually been test growing tomatoes in large containers for years at the farm. But it wasn’t until creating our 5 gallon bucket planters last spring that we expanded our growing efforts to include all types of heirloom tomatoes. (See: The DIY 5 Gallon Bucket Planter Experiment)
One thing is for sure, we were truly astonished by the results! In the past, the one issue with growing tomatoes in containers is you typically could only grow smaller varieties such as cherry and plum type tomatoes.
But by using 5 gallon buckets, and supplying regular water and a bit of organic fertilizer every few weeks, we discovered we could grow almost any variety. From San Marzano and Roma paste tomatoes, to large heirlooms like Brandywine, Purple Cherokee and Celebrity and more.
In fact, every single variety of tomato (13 in all) we trialed produced a viable crop!
Why Growing In 5 Gallon Buckets Works
As it turns out, 5 gallon buckets really are the perfect vessel for growing tomatoes. Most pots and containers simply don’t allow enough growing room for true slicing or canning tomatoes.
But 5 gallon buckets, with over 14 inches of depth and 11+ inches of circumference, provide plenty of space for strong root growth. And when it comes to growing larger varieties of tomatoes (or any vegetables for that matter), success is all about developing healthy, strong roots.
The Secret To Growing Tomatoes In 5 Gallon Buckets
In our trials, we have found there are a few key “secrets to success” for growing tomatoes in buckets.
The first is starting with a high quality potting soil mix filled with nutrients. We actually create our own potting soil from a mix of soil, compost, worm castings, perlite and spent coffee grounds. (See: The Perfect Homemade Potting Soil Mix)
This rich, well-draining mix allows the roots of the tomato plants to absorb nutrients with ease. In addition, the lightweight, loose soil allows the roots to grow with little effort. Even more importantly, it allows them to take up added nutrients in the form of organic fertilizers quickly.
Fertilizing is a must when growing in buckets. Just as in a traditional garden setting, tomatoes will eventually absorb most of the nutrients from even the richest of soils.
Tomatoes are heavy feeders from the soil. But a light, steady dose of added nutrients can fill that void as they become depleted. And the key here is light and steady. Too much fertilizer can grow plants with tons of foliage and growth, but little to no tomatoes.
We fertilize with a dose of compost tea every few weeks, and use a quarter cup of worm castings added to the top of the buckets every month for the first 3 months. If you have never tried worm castings as an organic fertilizer, you will be amazed at their power!
Beyond good soil and fertilizing, there is supplying good, consistent watering. Tomatoes planted in 5 gallon buckets do need frequent watering to keep plants hydrated.
The good news is that it only takes minutes a day. And, without having to weed – it’s a pretty good trade off! It is good to mention here that we drill holes in the bottom of all of our 5 gallon buckets to help shed off excess moisture.
Supporting The Tomato Crop
The final secret is providing good support for your tomato plants. Just like in a traditional garden setting, staking or caging your tomatoes is important. Without it, they can easily topple and break, especially when loaded down with fruit.
That is where the bucket planters really worked like a charm. With their wooden frame, it is easy to attach stakes or metal fencing to provide quick, simple support. If growing them out in the open, you can also secure a stake to the edge of the buckets to provide a place to tie off branches to.
And that’s about it – it really is that easy to grow tomatoes no matter where you live! Make this the year you try growing a few of your favorite tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets. Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary
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