As you read this post, my family is taking a bit of an extended break in Melbourne, Australia. The husband was able to take some leave and I jumped at the chance to take a bit of an extended break. After all, with Noey starting Primary 1 next year, this is just about my last chance to just take the kids out of school to travel during off-peak periods!
Usually when we plan to go on a holiday, I get stressed about stuff like packing and sorting out our accommodation and itinerary. This year however, I had an additional thing to worry about: What would become of my cherry tomato plants?
I never intended to grow cherry tomato plants. In fact, I wasn't even the one who planted them -- it was Noey who did, as part of a homelearning lesson planned by my friend D. This wonderful mummy planned a lesson on plants and part of the hands-on portion of the activity saw the kids planting their own cherry tomato seeds. My apartment dwelling kids rarely have the opportunity to get their hands dirty this way so they really enjoyed it!
The unwitting gardener.
And that's how we ended up having two pots of cherry tomato plants. I'd come back with the very vague general notion that we'd leave the seeds where they'd get plenty of sun and water them regularly and see how long they'd survive. Not having intended to grow tomatoes, I was ill equipped to take care of them. I'm sure the plants would not have survived, and indeed thrived if not for the fact that my helper was very excited about the plants. "I've grown tomatoes before. It's very easy!" she assured me. Clueless, I decided to let her take charge.
The kids were very excited about the plants at the beginning and were all too eager to douse their pots with water everyday. We also made sure to provide them with plenty of sunlight and were rewarded with the presence of spouts within a couple of days. Of course, the kids had liberally poured all the seeds in their seed packet into each of their little pots, so we ended lots of little shoots -- way too many for our little pots.
We allowed the seedlings to grow till they put out sufficient roots and were about 10cm to 15cm high before we re-potted them. My helper salvaged two pots from the discard pile nuder my block and I bought a longish trough to transfer the rest of the plants into. We tried to save space and probably put in more plants than we ought to into the pots -- two each in the single pots and about ten in the long pot. Probably not the best idea but I know we were reluctant to throw away healthy plants. So my advice to you on this is not to plant too many seeds in the first place!
We were surprised that the cherry tomato plants grew rather tall. Much taller than tomato plants, I am told. They did get rather unruly before we decided to stake them a bit by building a box around them. My MIL had the good idea of buying canes from the market for this purpose and it worked a treat.
My messy plants… before we decided to do something about it!
After a couple of months, we were rewarded with the first flowers!
Little buds that burst forth into yellow blooms.
We waited excitedly for fruits but the flowers just ran the course of their lifespan and withered and died. Boo. How disappointing. It was nearly two months later (four months after we first planted the seeds that we spied the first fruit developing! I half suspect that nearly killing them when we abandoned and did not water them for 5 days when we went for church camp stirred the plant into fruit-bearing action...
Our first fruit forming!
It took another month of patient waiting before the fruits started to ripen. It was actually quite fascinating to observe the daily progress and watch the fruits push themselves out of the flowers. You can still see the remnants of the style of the flower with the stigma hanging off the base of the fruit as it develops though it does eventually drop off when the fruits are ripe.
Fruits growing and ripening on the vine.
The one person who was eagerly watching the whole process with me was my little Mei, devourer of all things tomato in this household. I had to keep her busy little hands off the vines because as soon as she spots a red one, she'll be helping herself to the fruit!
(L): Little Miss Helpful helping herself: (R): Fruits from our own garden taste extra sweet!
We picked the fruit off the vine as soon as they turned red and popped them in our mouths, but found that while decently sweet, the skin was rather thick and hard. Fruit left to ripen on the vine for about a week more tasted much better, but were at risk of other hungry creatures!
We found this crime scene on the balcony one morning. Likely suspect: a squirrel. My helper has spotted one prowling near the balcony and plants!
It's been quite an experience. The plants were fruiting away over the past month but it remains to be seen if they will survive this period when we are away. Maybe it'll be time for new plants when we return, though before I plant any, I'm going to have to think hard about contingency care arrangements!
If you're keen to grow your own cherry tomatoes in a pot, here are some tips, based on my own experience:
2. I read that these plants need plenty of sunlight and I fretted a bit as my balcony doesn't really get much (if any) direct sun. During the initial days I used to bring the plants downstairs to the courtyard for some sunning but later determined that it wasn't really necessary since the plants continued to grow well notwithstanding the lack of direct sun, bending towards the light. So if you are not able to place your plants where they get lots of direct sunlight, don't panic. They'll still grow!
3. These plants need a lot of water. At some stage we started watering the plants twice a day to keep their soil moist.
4. I didn't add fertilizer, but I did make sure to get some good quality potting soil. You might also have to top up it up and add more soil to the pot after some time. We added more when we started seeing roots on the surface.
5. These plants grow pretty tall and as they grew, we started pruning the leaves at the bottom (which started yellowing anyway). Pruning unwanted unnecessary leaves allows the nutrients to be channelled to the new growing parts, including the fruits.
6. I think the fruits benefit from ripening on the vine. As I mentioned above, I left them on the vine for about a week after they turned red and thought that the fruits were much sweeter with a thinner skin. I suppose you can also pluck them early and leave them to ripen on the counter but we've never been able to resist eating them straight away!
Have you successfully grown cherry tomatoes in a pot locally as well? Do share any tips -- I'd love to know! Or have you grown any other plants or herbs successfully? Please share easy-grow useful varieties!