How To Grow Uber Tomatoes, even when you start them too early

May 13, 2009 at 6:09 pm 4 comments

…by using recycled coffee cups to maximize root size. Every year I start my tomatoes in February. I don’t have a south facing window–I am totally reliant on shop lights to help them grow. But instead of being leggy, my tomatoes are crazy drought-proof beasts that take over the world. Last year, my Matt’s Cherry tomato grew about 9 feet wide, and the neighbours had to cut it back just to figure out where the fence was so they could park their car. That’s because the root ball was deep enough to support it. My secret is using recycled coffee cups to help gradually build up the root ball.

Step 1. Get everyone you know (and their office) to collect coffee cups. Sort them by size, because you will want to start with the small ones. Poke drainage holes.
poke drainage holes
Step 2. Remove your leggy tomato seedling from the cellpack (I plant all my seeds in cell packs recycled from past years, because most greenhouses won’t recycle them), and place at the bottom of a small cup. See the first leaves at the bottom? Carefully pinch those off.
remove first leaves
Step 3. Bury the tomato up to where it branches, stem and all. Around the root ball, you can use compost to give it a healthy start, but when you are burying the stem, a soil-less potting mix is best. (I prepare my potting mix by soaking it first, to make sure it has absorbed plenty of water.) This is how deep you should plant it.

Roots will grow out of the part of the stem that you burried, to become part of the ever-growing rootball.
Step 4. When the tomato grows up out of the pot again, remove it from the small cup, put it in the bottom of a medium sized cup, and bury it up to the branch again. (In these stages, you can make a doughnut of compost around the outer edges of the cup, and use potting mix for the rest.)

Repeat until you have a root ball as deep as extra large coffee cup. You can keep moving them up into larger planters, but by XL I run out of space to keep all my seedlings.
Using coffee cups also makes it easy to give away tomatoes to friends and neighbours. Share the heirloom love.

When it’s finally safe to plant everything outdoors, I’ll show you how to use drought-proof planting to make your tomatoes (and other plants) survive between rains without the need for watering.


Entry filed under: Food, Garden, recipes and tutorials, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • […] How To Grow Uber Tomatos, even when you start them too early … […]

    • 2. Affinity  |  December 12, 2011 at 5:53 am

      We diefnitley need more smart people like you around.

  • 3. anthromes  |  May 14, 2009 at 8:51 am

    Did you tomatoes can be grow from cuttings? Once cuttings have rooted and begun to grow they fruit right away, so you end up with a more compact, heavier bearing plant. Also a good way to clone superior tomato varieties. Where I live the problem with tomato growing is often the overly saturated soil, but since eggplant enjoys those kinds of conditions, you can graft tomato onto eggplant rootstock.

    • 4. livinglime  |  May 14, 2009 at 12:19 pm

      Great tip! Where I live, the biggest problem is the shorter growing season, and I guess tomato blight. what do you mean by “overly saturated”?


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