The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Tip top care for tomatoes

new tomato plant and resevoir of water“You’ve spent hours on the Internet. What exactly are you looking for?”
“I’m trying to decide what disease our tomatoes are suffering from. If I can identify it then we can treat it.”
“Why? The great thing about our vegetables is that they are not treated with chemicals.”

Having lost fifteen tomato plants to an unfathomable disease (blight?), I just wanted to find out what had gone wrong. I discovered that there were so many tomato plant ailments that my head whirled and I gave up in the end.

I took a deep breath and hoiked out the diseased plants, even though most of them had flowers. I’ve ignored danger signs in past years and the harvest has been thin.

I was determined to give the replacements the best care possible so I returned to the Internet for advice. I discovered that if you put a plant in a five gallon drum it has a great future. We don’t have any five gallon drums knocking about so I read on and discovered that our preferred method, grow bags, are fraught with problems. Poor water retention leading to weak root growth.

I learnt that if I placed each tomato plant in a bottomless pot, plunged into the grow bags, the plants would produce better root systems. Cutting the bottoms off 15 of these plastic pots was challenging. My wrists ached.

Apparently I was not giving my plants sufficient water. Particularly towards mid summer, when the plants have grown and are flourishing and the roomy grow bag is still exactly the same size.

This is where the upturned bottle reservoirs come into their own. You cut the bottoms off a number of plastic bottles and stick one into both ends of the grow bag, neck first. Bottles with long thin necks work best. Then you top them up every time you water. The water stays in the bottle until it’s needed. The bottles were half full this morning but empty by the evening and this is only June.

We drank bottled water and tonic like mad (forget the gin) so as to release the bottles into the wild of our grow bags. Tonight, finally we have the ten bottles in place in our five grow bags.

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  1. thomas

    Yes, but make sure its an old knife that you don’t use for breadcutting, or you might end up with squashed bread.

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Clare,

    The bread knife idea is a good tip. Thanks.

  3. Instead of cutting the bottles I use a bread knife to carve them, takes much less time and will save your wrists!

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Thank you so much Dan. I didn’t realise they were your tins.

  5. Pop by the smokery and you can help yourself. We get through 10 or so a week and we have to pay have them taken away for recycling. So the more you take the better 🙂

  6. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Ash,
    I think to bottles would probably do the trick for you with your pots. I have some tomatoes in pots in the kitchen garden and I’m going to try the bottle trick with them.

    Hi Sara,
    Tanks for dropping by. Mrs Boss is doing well. I’m enjoying your articles on the care of keets.

    Hello Dan,
    Those olive tins are so attractive. Where can I find some?

    Hi Amanda,
    I hope that this works for you. I have just remembered when I put in the bottomless pots, I added more compost to the pots so there is more compost overall in the grow bag.

  7. Amanda

    This is fantastic. Hubby has gone to bed but he must read this tomorrow. Thank you.

  8. I’ve used the bottomless pot trick before as it makes them easier to water. But I’ve never tried the upturned bottles. Maybe I’ll give that a try.

    Last year I grew a few in olive tins like this. Not 5 gallons but big and free:

  9. These are great tips Fiona. I will certainly be following your advice. Thanks for sharing. (Hope Mrs Boss is doing well)
    Sara from farmingfriends

  10. Thanks so much for the tip about the bottles! I have 25 tomato plants in pots on my balcony and I water every day but I know that in August even twice a day won’t be enough.

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