Tomatoes can be an easy plant to grow and take care of, making it ideal for the beginner gardener pottering around in their balcony. Tomatoes also give you yummy fruit and a sense of accomplishment that can keep your gardening dreams alive. But how do you grow a tomato plant? Do you need a backyard or garden to grow a tomato plant? Well, no! Here’s how to grow tomatoes in a 5 gallon bucket and have them thrive and provide you with lots of juicy tomatoes.
Note: The ideal scenario is to start with organic, heirloom tomato seeds. You can also buy healthy, organic seedlings, ideally from your local nursery. Once this is decided, you’re ready to start your tomato adventure!
- How to Grow Tomatoes in a 5 Gallon Bucket: best time to plant seeds or saplings
- Growth Timeline of a Tomato Plant
- How to transplant your tomato plant into a 5-gallon bucket?
- How to Care for your Tomato Plant
- How to Harvest your Tomatoes
- How to Save Tomato Seeds for Next Season
- Troubleshooting: Things that can go wrong with your tomato plant
How to Grow Tomatoes in a 5 Gallon Bucket: best time to plant seeds or saplings
The first thing you need to know before planting a tomato sapling or seeds is that tomatoes are warm-weather plants. The best time to sow organic tomato saplings considering the climate, depending on which some you’re in, is May through October. (You can start tomato seeds in eggshells!)
Tomatoes are grown as summer annuals because they need to be under the warmth of the Sun for about eight hours per day. They do not grow in temperatures below 50F (10 degrees Celsius) and soil temperature less than 60F (16 degrees Celsius). You should know that it’s the right time for planting tomato seeds in your zone when you observe a consistent temperature at nighttime in your area.
If you’re starting a tomato plant from seed, you need to plant the organic seeds six weeks before the arrival of Spring. Seedlings can be planted when Spring arrives.
Growth Timeline of a Tomato Plant
It’s good to have an idea of the growth timeline of the plant you’re focusing on right now. Almost all tomato varieties take up to 100 days to mature and produce fruit. But, if you’re looking for tomato plants with shorter growing times, varieties such as the Sub Arctic Plenty harvest within 45 days. These varieties are good for those who have missed the right time for starting their tomato plants.
Tomato seeds germinate within 5-10 days after planting tomato seeds, and you can spot green shoots now. This step confirms successful germination. The plant bears ripe fruit 60-80 days after germination. The growth timeline of tomato plants generally follows this pattern:
1 // Planting
This is the first step of planting a tomato crop.
2 // Vegetative stage
Lasts for 14-15 days from planting the seeds. You can spot this stage by looking for germinating shoots.
3 // First flowering
The first flower appears after 30 days of planting and this stage lasts for 15 days.
4 // First fruit set
The first fruit set is produced almost 40 days after you planted your seeds.
5 // Fruit growth
Full fruit growth bearing ripe tomatoes is after 60 days from the start.
6 // Harvest
Harvesting is generally started on the 81st day of the crop age and lasts up to 210 days.
How to transplant your tomato plant into a 5-gallon bucket?
1 // The Pot / Bucket
Do you know which pots to use when? The evolution of pot size for your tomato plant should go like this: Seed starting pots/soil blocks —> intermediate pots (optional) —> 5-gallon buckets. If you’re using your balcony as your garden space, the plant will stay in the 5-gallon bucket.
2 // Timing
Learn to observe your plant. Your tomato plant will give out distinct signs that it’s ready for transplant into the 5-gallon bucket:
- The seedlings will have grown up to 3-4 inches tall or three times the size of the pot they’re planted in.
- The nighttime temperature is consistently above 50F (10 degrees Celsius).
3 // Space
When transplanting tomato plants, make sure you check the seed spacing in accordance with the tomato plant variety sown. Plants require adequate spacing for better air circulation.
You can transplant your tomato plant into the 5-gallon bucket in these 5 easy steps:
- Drill six half-inch evenly-spaced drainage holes in the bottom of the 5-gallon bucket. Find a location for the bucket – somewhere with enough sun to keep the plant happy.
- Fill the bucket between halfway and three-quarters to the brim with potting mix (a mixture of equal parts peat moss, perlite or sand, and organically rich potting soil).
- Extract the sapling from the first container and handle the roots very carefully. Position the sapling in the center of the bucket, and fill in with soil around the stem and roots, with the top portion (the top few shoots and leaves) above the soil. Pat down the soil firmly so the roots and stem are well supported.
- Use this time to also add a suitable stake, trellis or cage that can support the plant as it grows.
- Water the new plant bed sufficiently. Make sure to add water-soluble fertilizer every 10-14 days.
Transplanting your tomato plant has many benefits, including increased space for the roots to expand and the plant to grow. The plant will develop a firm and strong root system in the new pot, helping it become more resilient.
How to Care for your Tomato Plant
Growing tomatoes don’t just require care and attention during transplanting but throughout their growth period. Make sure you pay attention to these aspects:
1 // Sunlight
As discussed earlier, sunlight is essential for a growing tomato plant. It will need full exposure to the sun for 6-8 hours a day on average.
2 // Soil
Your tomato plant will grow best in well-drained, loosely packed, loamy soil. The ideal temperature of the soil is more than 60F (16 degrees Celsius), with a pH value between 6.0 and 7.0.
3 // Water
Providing just the right amount of water to your tomato plant is vital for its health. Both over- and under-watering can disrupt its growth. Water your tomato plant when the upper soil layer dries out.
4 // Air
Your tomato plant needs some gentle breeze to give the best fruit. If you’re growing your plant where the air doesn’t move at all, then turning on an electric fan at low speed for 5-10 minutes twice every day could help.
5 // Temperature
To give fruit, the tomato plant requires a warm temperature. It cannot bear fruit in extra humid or in frosty conditions. Consider moving the plant to a more suitable (warmer) location if it’s reacting badly to the ambient temperature at its current location.
Bonus Tip: Remove bottom leaves
As your tomato plant grows, it is a good idea to remove the bottom-most leaves (which are the oldest leaves on the plant). This will protect your plant from developing fungus or other diseases.
How to Harvest your Tomatoes
If all goes well (and it should!), your tomato plant will be ready for harvest soon. The first harvest of tomato plants can usually be done after 75-90 days of planting, and harvesting can be done 8-10 times, depending on various factors (how healthy the plants are, how productive they are, etc). The ripeness of the tomatoes will depend on the variety, but generally ripe tomatoes are softer than unripened ones.
Simply pluck the tomatoes gently and store them at a temperature of 55-70F (13-21 degrees Celsius). You can use them fresh immediately, or refrigerate them for later use.
How to Save Tomato Seeds for Next Season
If you’re happy with the performance of the tomato plant, and the taste of the fruit, then it’s a good idea to save the seeds for next season, especially if you got it from someone or somewhere else. Tomato seeds can be extracted from fully ripened tomato fruit, but the trick is to remove the clear membrane from the seeds before using them again as the membrane inhibits growth to a large extent. Here are a few simple steps to save and store seeds:
1 // Squeeze out the seeds
Squeeze out seeds from the fruit into a clear container. Label it with the name and variety to avoid mix-ups.
2 // Add water
To your container filled with seeds and pulp add an equal amount of water to it. This will segregate mature and immature seeds. Cover the container and let it stay put for some time.
3 // Fermentation
The fermentation process continues with the help of naturally occurring bacteria that break away the clear membrane. This gets completed in 3-5 days (the speed is faster in warmer conditions).
4 // Rinse well
After fermentation, the residue of the container gets divided into three layers: the topmost layer has the immature seeds and pulp, the middle layer has water and the bottom layer has the mature seeds. Remove and discard the first two layers, and rinse the mature seeds carefully.
5 // Allow to dry
This step is essential to increase the fertility of the seeds. Dry the rinsed mature seeds by placing them on a paper towel. They will dry within 1-2 days and may come together as clumps that need to be separated.
6 // Store carefully
Dry seeds can be stored in any place with minimum humidity. Desiccant packets are a good option for this step.
Troubleshooting: Things that can go wrong with your tomato plant
1 // Why is my tomato plant not giving me tomatoes?
There can be several reasons that inhibit your plant from bearing fruit. A few common causes are:
Insufficient water could be the reason why your plant produces flowers but then they fall off.
Too little sunlight can be a reason for poor fruit development. Tomato plants require sun for many hours of the day. If they don’t get enough sunlight, they may not bear flowers or fruits.
Is the ambient temperature too low or too high? Tomato plants require a warm and sunny climate.
Other possible reasons for non-production of fruit could be poor spacing between samplings, wrong fertilizers, (or insufficient nutrition), and insufficient pollination.
2 // My tomato plant is infected. What do I do?
To control and deal with plant infection and diseases, you must first observe and try to find out the issue with your plant. Different diseases have varied treatments, but a few general tips to control infections are: rotating crops, pinching off of infected leaves, and choosing disease-resistant varieties.
You must also try to keep the foliage dry. Excess wetness can cause the growth of infections. Keep sufficient space between tomato plants. This increases the passage of air between plants and reduces the chances of infections. Disinfecting empty pots prior to planting can also help in controlling infections.
3 // My tomato plant died. What could the reason be?
Tomato plants can wilt and die due to many reasons, sometimes because of little mistakes that you make while gardening. A primary reason for the plant’s ill health is due to lack of nutrients in the soil, which can either cause production of low-quality fruit or the death of the plant. Light and water issues can also be the cause of the death of your tomato plant.
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