Grow a Perfect Tomato


To grow a perfect tomato, start with a planter on wheels. You could put your tomato plant in the ground, but you would have to erect a fence to protect it from critters, and you couldn’t control the soil nutrients and watering as well as you could when the plant is in a pot. Place the planter as close as possible to your house or apartment, preferably on a deck or balcony, the idea being to discourage critters, while making it easier for you to tend your plant. The planter needs wheels because your tomato plant needs as much soil as possible, preferably in a deep pot, and that makes the whole contraption heavy. Depending on where the sunlight falls at your place and on your critter situation, you may want to move that planter around a bit.

Now that you have a planter on wheels, preferably a deep planter so that it holds water longer than a shallow one, fill that planter with high quality organic potting soil that has good stuff already in it, like bat guano and worm castings. In order for your tomato plant to stay healthy and productive throughout the growing season, quality potting soil which doesn’t rely on synthetic fertilizers is the key component. Plant your plant, good and deep, and water it in. Your tomato plant is off to a good start.

Tomato on its stem
A tomato growing on its stem. Photo by tooony.

Once your tomato plant starts growing, you will need to place a cage or some kind of sturdy supports around it before it gets out of hand sprawling all over the place. Some tomato plants are more compact than others, but even they will appreciate support for their fruits when they come along. Now is also the time to consider additional critter control measures if necessary by installing a net or other guard along with the cage or supports. Your tomato plant is of value to you, and it could be to others as well, others who are always watchful and ready to strike the moment the fruit is ripe.

Water your tomato plant deeply and infrequently, rather than shallowly and frequently. You will need to keep an eye on the weather. A rain gauge may help. Too much water is bad, as is too little. The amount and intensity of sunlight affects the amount of water your tomato plant needs. Stick your finger several inches deep into the potting soil, and if the soil is dry and no rain is in the forecast, water your plant well. Inspect your plant weekly for tomato hornworms, more if you see signs of leaf eating. Pick off and discard the hornworms. The same goes for leaves stricken with blight – pick off and discard them.

A ripe and ready perfect tomato. Photo by Letrek.

Once your tomato plant starts bearing fruit, be even more judicious with your watering. Too much water at this point could lead to disfigurement of the fruit, as well as ruining their flavor. Add calcium to the soil, along with an organic fertilizer high in phosphorous. Phosphorous will help the fruits grow and multiply, and calcium will keep them healthy. Relax and watch the fruits of your tomato plant turn from green to pink to red. When the fruits are ready for you, they will separate from the plant with a gentle tug from you. If they won’t come free readily, you can still cut them free at the stem and put them on the kitchen counter to continue ripening over a couple of days. They will be delicious!

Cost per tomato: Between 5 and 10 dollars the first year, cheaper afterward.
— Izzy


Good In, Good Out


Gardening starts with good soil, and container gardening is even more dependent on quality soil because the plant’s roots are constrained. The container soil has to supply all the minerals and nutrients the plant might need, though the gardener usually has to replenish them at least once during the growing season on account of the original supply leaching away. Spending a little more on quality potting soil is well worth it if quality is indeed what the product delivers. The plants will be healthier and look better if they are flowers, and they will be healthier in themselves and for you if they are vegetables.


The best commercial potting soils don’t have synthetically derived fertilizers mixed in, but instead have naturally derived fertilizers which cover a broad spectrum of a plant’s nutritional needs. The difference for plants between potting soils with naturally derived fertilizers and those with synthetically derived fertilizers is like the difference for people between a nutritionally balanced, full meal, and an energy bar or drink. A gardener shopping in the garden center of one of the big home improvement chains is most likely to see options for plain potting soil (cheap), potting soil with synthetic fertilizer mixed in (middling), and the greenwashed version from a major manufacturer such as Scotts, makers of Miracle-Gro (expensive).


Hands sifting through potting soil in a garden bed; photo by M. Tullottes.


The plain potting soil offered at the big chains is often very low quality stuff not worth the savings. The middling priced stuff is better quality soil, but it almost always has synthetic fertilizer mixed in. Paying extra for the greenwashed version is more likely than not giving your money to a corporation that doesn’t need it, but wants to crowd out honest competitors, because that is simply how big corporations operate. They’re cynically manipulating your interest in doing the right thing and your willingness to spend a little more to further that interest. It’s doubtful in that case whether spending the little extra does more for you the consumer than it does for their executives.


UNEP Stop Greenwashing Bayer
A protest sign hung over the sign announcing the 2007 International Youth Conference of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in Leverkusen, Germany; photo by PhilippM2. The German pharmaceutical company Bayer manufactures neonicotinoid pesticides which have been implicated in the collapse of bee colonies worldwide.


There are excellent potting soils available without synthetic fertilizers from honest manufacturers, but chances are you won’t find them at the big home improvement chains. Your best bet is a locally or regionally owned farmers co-operative or garden center. The price will be higher than the green-washed version available at the big chain, but it’s quality will probably be better, and there’s the satisfaction of paying that extra bit to decent people instead of fat cat executives for whom a few dollars more means nothing other than another martini on their expense account. A conscientiously managed local garden center or farmers co-operative is a gardener’s golden nugget amid the commercial tailings of the big chains. The customer service is almost always better at the mom and pop places, and that alone can be worth the higher prices.


One purchasing option that people are turning to more and more, even for bulk items like potting soil, is Amazon and other online retailers. They have the widest selection of anybody, and often the best prices even after including the cost of shipping. It’s hard to deny that combination, and then add in the convenience of shopping online and it’s completely understandable why more and more people shop for everything at Amazon. Keep in mind how they treat their employees, however, and balance that with brick and mortar stores, especially the mom and pop ones, where you can see for yourself at least part of the operation and how it is conducted. What you put into the soil shows itself in the plants which grow from it, and what you put into your community will just as surely show itself sooner or later.
― Izzy