Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Clever Idea for a Bountiful Tomato Harvest

Happy Earth Day!

I love our world. I love being out in it, even if it's just in my own little garden. When it comes to trying new techniques to make the garden thrive, I am ever an optimist (even in the wake of a rocky track record). This year, I'm trying a brilliant idea by a man named James Bryan that should lead to a bumper crop of ravishing tomatoes. Check out his impressive results. (Here are the directions from his Facebook page, which vary slightly.)

In a nutshell, the idea is to plant your tomatoes around a container that will provide subterranean water trickling through a pile of compost. Here's how easy:

I drilled holes in a little six-gallon trash can: one round near the bottom of the can, and another ten inches higher, just above where the dirt level would be after I buried it. (According to this report, Bryan started out with a 13-gallon garbage can, but eventually switched to 5-gallon buckets, which are cheaper and easier to find... you just have to fill more often.)

I then buried the container, filled it with a couple big scoops of the best compost I have, and planted four little tomatoes I'd started* around the can. 

I filled the bucket with water. Some trickled out of the top holes, but most seemed to push through to the bottom row. The water level went down pretty fast. I love that it must travel through that rich compost before meeting the roots of the plants.

In studying the original idea for this post, I discovered two important points I overlooked in my initial reading:
  1. Whatever size container you use, you want to give each plant about five gallons of water per week. So if you have four plants surrounding a 5-gallon bucket, you should fill the bucket four times per week. 
  2. I also saw in the comments of that first article that you should add fresh compost a couple times a week until fruit starts setting. (The comments are very helpful.)
I've only been filling the bucket maybe every five days or so (they haven't looked thirsty, even on hot days), and haven't added extra compost. I figured that Byron's burst of growth was mainly from the compost, but apparently, it's at least equally from the quantity of water and the additional nutrients added to the container. I'll make those changes! (For you tomato gurus, he also doesn't prune the suckers! That was a surprise to me. I'll have to experiment with that.)

Nevertheless, I'm pleased with my little plants. They're starting to flower like crazy. Here is the change that's occurred over three weeks:

I plan to try this method with squash and pepper plants, too, as well as another round of tomato plants. Watch for an update!


Lucky for me, I live in a warm climate where I can garden year-round. What about you? Have you started your tomatoes yet? Does this look like something you'd like to try?

*I was hesitant to use these particular plants for this idea because I started them at the end of January, and though they sprouted just fine, their first couple months were spent in a small container in mediocre soil (so in my opinion, they'll never be what they could have been). But in the end, I decided that this method may be just the boost they need. We'll see what they can do!


  1. You are so industrious! I hope I have a yard I can grow food in at our next house. And I hope I can stop being lazy.

  2. A lot of people up here in the Kamas Valley avoid growing tomatoes because of the late and early frosts. But I've seen some yards that grow them. This looks like a great method. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Wow, Nonie! This looks amazing. I have started some tomatoes recently inside, and am just chomping at the bit to plant them outside. My dad always just bought starts when I was growing up -- and always had an amazing crop! How tall is it recommended to let the get before transferring them? Also, I had never heard of pruning tomatoes before, so what's the deal with that? Thanks for the informative post! I'm trying to figure out how to work that out in my garden space now.