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I have had trouble with the native tree rats, and maybe squirrels, getting all my yummy tomatoes the past few years so have decided to cage my plants this year.
I got some livestock watering tanks to use as planters and will cage them in with small mess chicken wire. The wire hasn't arrived from the supplier yet but the picture gives you the idea.
The tanks are 125 gallons, dimensions 2'x2'xx5'. Good size.
My question is how many tomato plants can I put in each tank? The wire cage seems high enough for vertical growth.
Also what does anything think would be the smallest size container one tomato plant might do okay in? Is a 5 gallon bucket just too small?
Thanks for any input and advise.
Helen, this is my perspective from personal experience, nothing more. I would imagine that 5 gallon would be the smallest container one would want to use. Some of the "patio" tomato plants could actually be grown in somewhat smaller containers, but watering would have to be done frequently since the plants would soon become pretty root-bound. That is even true for the five gallon containers though. Tomato plants develop vigorous root systems and need a lot of water, particularly as our days become hotter.
If growing non-patio size tomato plants, I would put three plants in those 2x2x5' troughs. Even that might get a little crowded, but still doable. What is the width of the wire? You will need pretty tall wire IF you want to keep the entire plant under-wire. Some of my tomato plants easily get 5-6' tall.
Klrkkr is right -- depends on what type of tomato plant you plan to grow. I grow long-season beefsteak heirlooms, extensively, and, I'd only put two side by side in those tanks -- unless you plan on pruning the suckers to maintain only one main stem on each plant. Then, I'd go with three, but, that's still tricky.
You're gonna need some stout line to hold up the weight of the vines loaded with fruits.
Helen I have grown in such a container as you have except mine was all rusty from many years of use as a water trough. I grew 5 tumbler tomatoes and they did well. Tumbler if you are not familiar with it is a cherry tom bred to be grown in a basket so it trails. So I would say your trough is good with five cherries of any type.
But following the rule of planting tomatoes two feet apart I would only plant two plants in the trough especially if they are big beef stake plants. Smaller plants like Siberian maybe three and Romas maybe four.
I grew about 20 plants in five gallon buckets watered them twice a day and for the most part had poor luck and poor production. The cherries did fine the beef stakes were just poor. I did this twice just to be sure I was right in my thinking. Now I plant everything but cherries in the ground and the cherries are planted three to a 25 gallon tub.
You didn't say but you will put a top on it won't you good luck.
Linda that's the trouble with you Texans you depend on lassos for everything. Heck a good stake or steel fence post will support the plant best if tied with strips of an old sheet or used panty hose pcs.
I had great luck with a cherry in a 5 gallon bucket. In fact it was a toss-away piece that broke off my main bush, and had only about 4 inches of soil to grow in. Of course, if I'd cosseted it, it probably would not have done so well, lol, but either way, we sure enjoyed them.
I grow mostly cherries, but even so I probably wouldn't have more than two in your containers. My cherry plants get over 6 foot.
Hope that helps, and good luck!
Thanks for everyone's input. I have put three Better Boys in one of the troughs. I put another in a 8-10 gallon flower pot. I have one more tomato plant, being held as reserve.
The second trough only have a few chard plants which won't last into the hot weather here. Not sure what I will use it for. Maybe more tomatoes!
I got the small meshed chicken wire in the mail yesterday. I will put it on the top since I can imagine the critters going right up and over get the the tomatoes.
Maybe I will try some butter beans in the other trough since they were routinely eaten as seedlings before….
Years ago I had trouble with squirrels eating my tomatoes that were in the ground - they removed them, ate chunks. They did not bother the tomatoes in 11 gallon tubs. I had bird baths filled with water so it was not that they were just thirsty. I finally stopped them with plastic chicken wire found at Walmart in 3 ft tall rolls. Easy to cut and wrap. Not pretty but solved the problem. Last year at new house they ran off with the few peaches I had. Again it was not that they were thirsty - I watered a lot and had many bird baths. I may have to use that plastic mesh again.
I too have to cage in a lot of my plants/raised garden. For some reason squirrels have never bothered my tomatoes, but birds do, just before they are ready to pick. Rabbits and deer love sweet potato leaves. Rabbits will also do a number on lettuce. I haven't seen anything that bothers my garlic, onions, or asparagus. Squirrels keep my bird feeders empty and will chop off a large jade plant at its base, dropping the leaf-laden stem and then ignoring it. They will sometimes do the same thing with my budded orchid stem, dropping the stem, buds and all to the ground and then ignoring it. I don't have a clue why squirrels do this. I now bring in my orchids when they are in sheath, not taking a chance of losing the stem before flowering.
I have something munching on my adolescent kale leaves. No visible aphids or other visible bug sins, on leaves or soil surface, probably not slugs/snails unless they've learned to fly. Bed on legs with copper legs, no such damage there last year that I remember. Ideas?
My kale, spinach and swiss chard regularly get eaten from my containers on the deck. I think its squirrels or nocturnal rats - the tree rats I mentioned in the beginning. Funny though they don't touch the lettuce.
Here is a picture of the culprit on my tomato plant last year. I had several tomato plants growing on the porch. My dog cornered it on the plant.
I thought it was a native but now I am not sure. Another name is roof rat.
Maybe I'll post the picture in the wildlife form and see if anyone care ID it for sure.
We have that same rat in Texas. It is a sub-species of the Black Rat, 'Rattus rattus'. It is often called a tree rat, roof rat or fruit rat. Its scientific name is Rattus frugivorus Rafinesquse. Here it is frequently a problem in attics.
A drawing of the variant and the normal Black rat is at the link below:
Thanks David, I think you are right. Luckily the ones around here haven't gotten in the house yet. I did have a terrible infection of the big brown Norway rats several years ago. It took some serious work to rat proof my house but so far so good. These little guys just eat my tomatoes and I suspect some greens. And I should say cactus and succulents too. Though the regular squirrels could be guilty as well.
If your tank will still hold water, you will need drainage hole(s). Your plants could drown in wet weather, and be overwatered in dry weather ( top of soil looks dry but bottom stays so wet it starts to smell like a swamp).
The tank has a drain hole. I put about a 4 inch layer of packing peanuts on the bottom then covered them with landscape fabric before I put the soil in. I think this will allow for drainage. The peanuts should separate the water that will accumulate in the bottom of the tank separate from the soil. I think about 2 inches of water could fill the bottom 2 inches before the drain hole allows for drainage. I hope this set up works.
Rather than one drain hole, you would have better drainage with several. Also, though 4" of the Styrofoam peanuts is fine, with the weight of the soil they will compress, maybe even compress 1/2 their depth. Thus if 2" of water remains in the tank, that water may in fact be in contact with the soil.
Good pointers Ken. Thanks. I see what you mean about the peanuts being compressed…etc. I will have to think about cutting holes in the tank… it is stout and if I did decide to add more I am not sure how I would do it.
I understand that "EarthBoxes" get a lot of mileage out of having an air layer under the soil layer (plus a water reservoir under the air layer).
Just speculating, maybe a 2' x 2' x 5' container would have happier roots near the bottom of the root zone if there were some air holes, plus maybe air chambers, near the bottom of the walls of the trough?
Some air holes in the sides, opening into a small tube or tunnel kept clear of soil so air can penetrate the whole bottom of the trough easily. Maybe window screening draped over pierced 1" PVC pipe or something else strong enough to support 2 feet of wet soil. It wouldn't take a big pipe to let plenty of air diffuse in.
I'm not suggesting bottom-watering, just extra aeration for the soil. That might let you use a more water-retentive mix and soak it down thoroughly while still keeping the entire root zone well-aerated.
Pure speculation. Like an EarthBox without the internal water reservoir.
I'm using 3 rusted out metal troughs as containers...all I did was add soil, plant and water. I grew peppers in one and cukes in the other two last year. They did as well or better then the ones in the ground.
Your idea of using landscape fabric to separate the soil from the drainage material is a good one. You might be able to make the single drain work. It works for those earth boxes mentioned above.
Get a level and make sure the drain is on the low side. Put a short pipe or some sort of air vent from the the bottom of the tank to the top on the HIGH side. That should work by itself.
If you want to take it a step further, then get a piece of PVC pipe or black irrigation pipe and run it from the drain across the bottom and up the high side. Thoroughly perforate the part of the pipe laying across the bottom. That makes a french drain - most people don't realize a drain needs an outlet on the low side AND a vent on the high side. Sand or gravel would probably work better than packing peanuts, but anything that drains will work - and you only need enough of a layer to provide a path for water seep towards the drain. If you can't get your pipe well perforated, then skip it.
Rick,I see how some air circulation in the bottom of the trough might be beneficial. Instead of drilling in the sides of the tough I was thinking maybe a PVC pile with holes could be pushed straight down into the soil. The trick would be to keep the bottom of the pipe open when you pushed it down through the soil. I suppose some plug in the end of the pipe would work though.
Well klrkkr I must comment on your suggestion that I could find a 'guy' with a 'big drill' (oh I am chuckling at this) to make the holes in the trough for me. I may have been a nurse (before retirement) but I should have been an engineer (which would have matched my natural mechanical/spacial talents). I had my own farm years ago and built fence etc and did all my own work. So I could drill the holes if I wanted. Not to say I don't appreciate your suggestion because I do and I don't take any offense by it either. I just was amused. I just haven't put more drainage because at this point I didn't think I needed them. But I may be proven wrong. I do like hearing 1lisac's success though and my trough set up might work just fine. I am occupied now putting up the wire cages to keep out the critters. I will post an updated picture when that is finished.
The principle is like holding your finger over the top end of a straw to keep the water in. The moist growing soil could make an air tight barrier at the landscape fabric, which could hold the water in below the fabric. I saw this demonstrated in my Master Gardening class. They had clear-sided cases (like large "ant farms") filled with layers of various types of soil from clay to gravel. There was always a problem with pooling in the upper layer whenever two layers came together - it didn't matter which layer was more porous. For water to move in, air has to be able to move out & vice versa.
No offense taken, Helen. When I suggested drilling more holes, your replay was: "It is stout and if I decide to add more I don't know how I would do it". I assumed (in error it appears) that you either did not understand how to drill the holes or did not have a heavy enough drill and bits to do the job.
When I say my troughs are rusted out I mean they have drainage holes, but I didn't put them there they rusted thru. But, like Helen, if I wanted holes in the troughs I have the tools and ability (even though I'm a "girl") to do it myself. I live on 8 acres and would much rather fix barbed wire fence then clean.
Ken, I hate to say this but Helen and I may give you a hard time for a while, but just a little while. : ). Lol
I like the idea of a vent pope like a chimney. But then, I'm obsessed with aeration.
>> The moist growing soil could make an air tight barrier
You are right, and I've probably had problems like that in the past, but the thought horrifies me. Now I like such coarse mixes that they don't hold very much water, and maybe not enough nutrients. But, by all that is anaerobic or hypoxic, they have LOTS of air at all times.
I used to kill whole trays worth of seeds with overly fine, overly water-retaining mixes (and over-watering). Now I go as far as I possibly can in the other direction.
I don't like the way Perlite looks, or the way it holds NO water except on the very surface. And it's pricey. And the coarsest kind I found wasn't very coarse. Give me cheap pine bark that I can screen and chop up myself!
Maybe I shouldn't push it so hard for large containers until I get more hands-on experience.
Ah, that makes more sense. I sure don't want to make my trees mad at me either.
Thanks for the tips on HD v. L's. how did you figure/find this out? I ask because we have a local home store I prefer to support, and they're generally very good.
Rick, I am fond of Lowe's 'soil conditioner' that is basically fine ground bark, probably pine. I use it for mulch in the garden and mix it with perlite for potting stuff. I don't like using peat moss. I got some 'top soil' at Lowe's and the only thing different from the soil conditioner was maybe a little sand mixed in.
Turtles, the way to check whats in a bag is to open, discretely, a corner and check it out. Or look for a broken bag in the pile to get a gander at whats inside.
Hey, even as handy (as I think) I am, if someone offered to do the grunt-work for me, I would not hesitate to take him/her up on their offer. At my age, it literally takes me three times longer to do something than it did two decades ago.
After the second L5-S1 disc rupture in 1990, I had to have surgery. I was a family dentist and could not stand and could hardly walk. I couldn't take Rx pain meds because of my work. Surgery was all that was left to me. In fact, when the neurosurgeon saw the MRI results, he did not even want me to go back home. He wanted to admit me then and there. I explained that I needed to have a week to "clear" my appointment schedule, and his statement was: "If you can endure the pain that long, and I don't think you can, a week won't do any more damage". I had surgery ten days later.
I am quite sure I have re-ruptured what was left of the disc (the symptoms are exactly the same as before, but I am not dragging my leg as before) but don't want the crippling affect that another surgery will produce. So, I just live with the pain and sciatica. You know how it is. 1943 for me.
>> >> HD v. L's. how did you figure/find this out?
I started buying the cheapest mulch I could find: Home Depot logyard trash. If used for starting seeds, I think that "free" would be too expensive. Maybe my local HD has worse mulch suppliers than others, but YEESH. Now I wouldn't even use it for a cheap top layer for a walkway, because I wouldn't trust it to be weed-seed-free.
Then I started trying a bunch of other bark products from other sources. I never waste any, because if it is too fine, I can always mix it into raised beds to lighten the clay. If it's too coarse, I can use it as weed-block-mulch.
I found a classy product around $7-8 for 2 cubic feet. Clean, dry pine bark SHREDS. But that nursery went out of business.
Lowes "Fine Pine Bark Nuggets" was the second best. Very clean and dry. Only $4.20 or so per 2 cubic feet.