Measure twice. Pot once.

Since the garden has turned into both an experiment and long-term development project, I’m focusing my gardening attention and effort on the container garden up at the house.

The irony is that the container garden was originally the experiment. As in: “Let’s see what we can get to grow in containers. Just for fun.” Now it’s my one, best hope to get veggies this season.

And I’m actually having pretty good success with growing veggies in the containers. Lettuce, chards, radishes and sorrel are plentiful because of how easy they are. The Provider bush beans are looking good and the Rattlesnake pole beans are coming up strong. I just transplanted cucumbers, both basic slicing and the more hipster-ish Lemon variety. I’m feeling so good about the container garden, I’m going to start zucchini and carrots in some buckets.

And so the other day, while looking over my little kingdom of potted vegetables, I noticed this: roots coming out the drainage holes of my tomato containers.

Not a good sign. Roots growing out the drainage holes mean the plant is out-growing the container and likely becoming root bound. Just a wee bit of anxiety kicked in when I realized and confirmed this in my own plants; my tomatoes are just beginning to show fruit and I cannot afford to lose them.

Emergency repotting was necessary.

Mind you, these tomatoes weren’t starters being transferred out of a 3 inch pot. All of my tomatoes were in 4 gallon pots, are 3 feet tall and are caged. There was a real risk of damaging the plants at every step of the repotting process: removing the cage, inverting the pot, removing the plant from the pot, clearing out and pruning the tangled roots, tipping the plant right-side up, placing it in a new pot, loosening the root ball for new soil, and finally re-caging the plant. For six plants.

I’m happy to report that the repotting went well for all the tomato plants. Now it’s just a waiting game to see how well they progress in the new pots.

Of course, all of this could have been avoided with a little research and reading in the beginning. Tomato plants need BIG containers to grow prodigiously; 20 inch wide, 10 gallon containers are what I used for the repotting. I guess I was feeling my gardening power a little too much when I originally planted the tomatoes. Instead of pausing to ask myself a simple question (“I wonder what size pot a tomato plant needs? I’ve never done this before”) I presumptuously charged ahead (“These pots are the biggest ones I have. They’ll be just fine”).

On a side note: I also picked up tomato-specific organic fertilizer to add to each pot. Nutrients wash out of container gardens pretty quickly and tomatoes are hungry plants. I’m not sure my current fertilization routine would keep them adequately fed. A little research and reading helped me see this problem coming and get ahead of it.

Needless to say, I’ve “measured” several times before deciding which size pots to use for my beans, carrots, cucumbers, and zucchini.

••
Additional Info:
Demboski, K., Swanberg, A. & Martin, J. Container Vegetable Gardening. Retrieved from http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1647.html

Kramer, J. How To Repot Container Plants. Retrieved from http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/simple-guide-to-repotting-container-plants.aspx

Michaels, K. 5 Tips for Growing Tomatoes in Containers. Retrieved from http://containergardening.about.com/od/vegetablesandherbs/tp/5-Tips-For-Growing-Tomatoes-In-Containers.htm

Michaels, K. Common Mistakes Growing Tomatoes in Containers. Retrieved from http://containergardening.about.com/od/vegetablesandherbs/a/Growing_Tomatoes_Mistakes.htm

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