Container Gardening

It seems every year I grow tomatoes, summer squash, eggplant, and chili peppers they don't really get going until late summer and many years I don't get any red tomatoes despite selecting the earliest varieties. I grow my own seedlings, put them in the ground, and if it's too early they get hit by frost and they always suffer from transplant shock. A friend always get many tomatoes and he looked me in the eye (he's got this disconcerting habit of giving you a long look straight in the eyes until you feel uncomfortable) and said "plant them in tires, the soil will warm up faster and you'll get plenty of tomatoes". I have always discounted container gardening because raised beds are expensive compared to yeild and containers don't scale very well unless using a hothouse and/or drip irrigation for each pot.

Pruning and Training Tomatoes

When tomatoes, eggplants, and chilis really do start producing they produce more than can be used in a short period so it is better to get them to produce earlier and over a longer period. Given previous years results I researched the benefits of pruning tomatoes in earnest and found a scientific paper on it Tashi Lhamo et. al. (2022), Effect of Different Pruning Systems on Yield and Quality of Tomato Grown Under Greenhouse, Bhutanese Journal of Agriculture. Researchers found that tomatoes trained to a single leader (cutting off all the site shoots) resulted 10 days earlier ripening, increased overall production, and lenthening of the harvest period. The plants actually continued to produce longer than those that were not pruned (these were greenhouse grown so not limited by season length in the experiment).

Use Large Cells For Seedlings or Start With Cuttings

I kept 8 Physalis peruviana plants and 5 Black Prince tomato cuttings alive during winter to start in the spring and started this years seedlings in bigger cells than previous years. Start seedlings individually in larger containers such as 3½ x 3½ x 5½ inch tall form pots so they will suffer less from transplant shock and can get larger before outplanting. Using trays with small cells or community planted seedlings in trays crowded together which must be separated is a mistake. By community planting I mean using a tray or pot and just spreading the seeds and allowing them to germinate together. Plants can be stunted in small cells and separating individual seedlings before transplant disturbs the roots.

Starting Seeds

Grow seedlings from seeds, don't buy plantlets from the store if you can avoid it. Recently chili and tomato starts at the store were more than $5 each after tax and I doubt I'd get $5 of jalapeno chili peppers off each plant. Home grown heirloom tomatoes are better tasting than store bought and heavy producers by weight so if successful could be worth the extra cost. Seeds really are economical and the best way to get plants started! Soak seeds overnight to speed up germination. Physalis require light to germinate so soak the seeds overnight, place on top of the soil, and cover with a clear plastic to keep the seeds moist until they germinate. If I have extra seeds I add an extra to each cell to one side just in case the first one doesn't grow.

Potting Soil Recipe

Tires seemed viable option but, being busy planting corn, I opted to use my left over #5 black pots. I had several large 25 gallon pots of left over potting soil which my cats use as a litter box so this year I decided to put the soil to a different use. Potting soil is very expensive so when I need more I mix my own. A nursery expert told me the best potting soil for african violets is 1/3 peat moss 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 perlite so buy a big bale of peat moss or coco-coir and large bag each of perlite and vermiculte (it's much cheaper in bulk / 120 quart bags). For fig cuttings and container vegetables use a different mix about 60% peat moss and 20% each of perlite and vermiculite. Add a little osomocote to make up for lack of nutrients in the mix.

Transplanting

Protect plants from frost or wait till all danger of frost has passed before transplanting outside. If there is more than 1 seedling in a pot it is better not to separate them, plant both together or cut out the smaller one. Tomatoes, squash, chili peppers, and eggplant make make roots along the stem easily so can be transplanted is deeply. Plant up to the first set of real leaves or remove a sets of leaves and plant even deeper.

Pictures of Potted Plants
Physalis peruviana
Physalis peruviana
Physalis peruviana / Overwintered
Tomato Cutting Overwintered
Tomato Cutting In Overwintered
Tomato Cutting / Overwintered
Tomato Seedling In Container
Tomato Seedling In Container
Tomato Seedling / Large Tray Cells
Chili Pepper In Container
Chili Pepper In Container
Chili Pepper / Store Bought
Squash In Container
Squash In Container
Summer Squashes / Community Tray
Eggplants In Containers
Eggplants In Containers
Eggplants In Containers / Community Tray
It would be fair to compare the tomato cutting 2nd from left above to the tomato seedling 3rd from left above and the tomato seedling 3rd from left above to the tomato seedling 3rd from left below. Both the potted eggplant and chili pepper look better than the in-ground counterparts.

Pictures Of In Ground Plants For Comparison
Tomato Seedlings In Ground
Tomato Seedlings In Ground
Tomato Seedlings / Large Tray Cells
Tomato Seedling In Ground
Tomato Seedling In Ground
Tomato Seedlings / Over Fertilized?
Tomato Seedling In Ground
Tomato Seedling / Large Tray Cells
Tomato Seedlings / Large Tray Cells
Chili Pepper In Ground
Chili Pepper In Ground
Chili Pepper In Ground / Store Bought
Chili Pepper In Ground
Chili Pepper In Ground
Chili Pepper In Ground / Community Tray
Eggplant In Ground
Eggplant In Ground
Eggplant In Ground / Community Tray
The chili in the picture is a store bought banana pepper, and the eggplant (long green) and yellow summer squash seedlings were grown in a community tray, put outside and damaged by frost, and then separated into individual plantlets. We had an early "summer like" hot period then couple very late frosts on May 20th and the 26th. The actual minimum temperatures on our property are regularly 5°-7° lower than reported at the airport half a mile away, so a forecast of less than 39° means possible frost.


Tip: Soaking Corn Seeds

Soaking corn for 24 hours is not advised as it deprives the seeds of oxygen and they will start to spoil. I soak my corn seeds overnight, drain them in the morning, and leave them in an open low profile container. If kept at room temperature plant in less than 10 hours or or roots will start to develop which can be easily broken off by handling. If the corn seed is not used in less than 10 hours rehydrate them periodically or they can be kept a few days in a refrigerator with a moist paper towel on top.