Happy Earth Day.  I hope everyone at least got a chance to be outside today and enjoy this beautiful planet God gave us.  Our big Earth Day project was planting a container garden for the porch.  We planted Roma and Cherry tomatoes as well as Rosemary, Basil, Thyme and Parsley.  I love doing companion planting with tomatoes and herbs because the herbs can really enhance the flavor of the tomatoes.  Plus, the herbs keep many harmful pests away from the tomato plants, reducing my need for pesticides.  Not to mention, I will now have tomatoes and herbs right out my front door.  I won’t even have to put on shoes to get what I need.

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Container gardening is actually a great way to garden organically.  By using potting soil instead of ground soil, you are greatly reducing the risk of fungus, bacteria, insects and other pests that can lurk in the soil and harm the plants.  It is also easier to relocate them if necessary.  I decided to try containers on the porch this year to prevent my plants from being eaten by raccoon and deer.  Then again, raccoon are pretty bold, so we’ll see if it works.

Another reason why I liked doing a small container garden this year is because it would be easier to get Henry involved.  He was so excited about using his little shovel (trowel) to help mommy fill the boxes and bury the plants.  Of course, he was very happy to have an excuse to play in dirt.  He was great at breaking up the big clumps of potting soil.  The only real challenge I ran into was working with the large plants while trying to keep him from damaging them.

I realize that most of the country is just planting seedlings right now, but here in Florida our Spring growing season has to be pretty much done by the end of June.  By then, it is too hot for the tomato plants and they end up getting scorched by the sun.  Since I didn’t start my seedlings in February like I should have, I elected to buy mature plants from Walmart.  It’s really not the most economical solution and I don’t recommend it if you can help it.  Walmart does not do a very good job of training and pruning their tomato plants.  As a result, the Cherry tomato plants both had a lot of breakage and required heavy pruning.  The Roma tomatoes weren’t as bad, but they’re not as big either.

As you can see, I don’t use cages for my tomatoes.  In my experience, it’s better to have a single trunk tied to a stake.  By pruning the suckers off of the plant, you end up creating a healthier plant with better fruit.  Suckers are the branches that will grow where leaves connect to the trunk.  If left unattended, they will form their own trunks with foliage and fruit.  This can come in handy if the trunk of the plant becomes damaged or broken; however, they will otherwise suck energy from the plant and weight it down causing poor quality fruit and breakage.  Suckers can pop up at any time, so check your tomato plants every day and prune suckers as you find them.  They can easily be pruned with your fingernail if caught early, but they will require scissors or pruning sheers as they get larger.

I just want to leave you with one more tidbit of information about container gardening.  The containers will dry out more quickly than in-ground gardens, so check the soil daily.  Stick your finger into the soil to your first knuckle.  If the soil feels dry, it needs water.  If it’s still moist, don’t water.  Over-watering will quickly cause fungus growth in container gardens and kill your plants.  Also, the fertilizer will be washed out of the containers more quickly because of the extra watering, so fertilize at least monthly.  If you’d like some more information, Texas A&M has put together a great guide for Vegetable Gardening in Containers.

Happy Earth Day!