Many years ago, when I lived with my parents, I would plant a garden in our backyard. I'd grow things like beans and tomatoes. I quite liked doing it because it was relaxing.
When I moved into the city I wanted to grow tomatoes in pots on the balcony. My first year wasn't very successful. My second year wasn't either. I figured my balcony wasn't getting enough sun or something.
I switched apartments a few years ago and this new apartment had a balcony that was in the sun for most of the day. The tomato plants still didn't do well. In fact, they didn't grow at all. All they did was turn purple.
Eventually I figured out what was wrong. It turns out that I was using the wrong soil.
For whatever reason, "black earth" has, in my family, always been a by-word for rich soil. So, when I went looking for soil to plant my tomato plants in I went with the big bag labeled black earth. Unfortunately, the black earth I got didn't help the tomato plants grow. I'm still not clear on why, although I've been told that tomatoes like something more organic. Great. Tomatoes are hippies.
Anyway, the second time I planted my tomatoes on the sunny balcony of my new apartment, I used a mixture of soils. I actually suspected that my they-aren't-getting-enough-sun hypothesis was bogus, so I planted 6 tomatoes plants n a mixture of different soils. The soil that did best was regular potting soil made for house plants. I can't remember the name of the soil but it was something ridiculous like "Mr. Magic's incredible miracle soil".
(for the experienced tomato growers: No, I didn't have compost in my selection of soils.. I'm getting to that :-) )
They did fine in the miracle soil (by fine I mean they actually grew. This had not happened before). Then I went to visit my parents. My parents still grow tomatoes and their tomatoes were twice the size of mine. I was annoyed but curious. Apparently, there was still room for improvement.
A little while later I noticed my plants had stopped growing. I became very frustrated but hypothesized that they might need more fertilizer. I had this jar of flowing houseplant fertilizer and I decided that since my tomato plants weren't producing anything that I might as well amuse myself by testing this hypothesis by trying to over fertilize them.
I started by giving them the weekly recommended dose every day. Their response was to turn an incredibly deep green then start growing by about an inch per day. It was really impressive.
I went to ask my local plant person about this and they said that tomatoes are always hungry. They really like nutrients and completely sap the soil of any. The house plant stuff I used was nicely balanced but not rich enough in the stuff the tomato plants wanted. I should plant them in pure compost. This made me relived as I half expected them to say they needed blood! Fresh blood and plenty of it! I dodged a bullet there.
So this year I have planted them in a mostly compost mix. They are bright green but and a bit tiny but I'm betting it's because they are cold. After bringing in a plant for a week and seeing its size doubled my hypothesis seems to be confirmed. Well, June is coming so that shouldn't be much of a problem anymore (June always likes the heat turned up to full. She's a funny girl is June.).
Growing tomato plants on your balcony is fun and results in a comical number of tomatoes at the end of the summer (if you've done it right).
The things you need are a balcony that gets plenty of direct sun from about 10am to 2pm. You need pots that are about 17 to 22 L (10 inch pots, deeper is better). You need pure compose soil (maybe mixed with something - opinions on the internet differ. I'm mixing with various amount of regular house plant soil in ratios of two thirds compost to seven eights compost the rest regular house plant soil).
Cherry tomato plants seem to be more resilient and less finicky.
Anti-squirrel gun installations may be needed depending on where you live.
Since my parents have a large compost pile where they compost just about everything I went down there and picked up some real, organic compost. You can also buy compost at the store. I've been told sea shell compost is quite good since tomatoes like the calcium. There are other composts as well. If you buy your soil at a real plant place you can ask the guy. If you're visiting a downtown botanist make sure you make it clear you're not using tomato plants as a euphemism for pot plants. Man, the miss-understandings I've had.. wow... As long as you use some type of organic compost soil you're probably ok. I'm still looking for soil tips to try out next year. Post pictures of your plants and soil tips in the forums :-)... I'd love to see them.
Tomato plants are fun to grow and fun for kids too since once they start growing you can actually see the amount they grow per day. This is growth on a kid-friendly time scale.
Oh and tomatoes taste so much stronger straight off the plant. Don't put them in the fridge because it destroys the taste.
Ok, enough about tomatoes. See you next time.