Vermi Tomato Gardening

Vermi Tomato Box

I am a serious tomato fanatic, so each growing season I’m always thinking about “how many” tomato plants I’ll be putting in, not “IF” I’ll be growing them that season. Invariably, I end up buying WAY too many, and I’m left trying to find homes for them all in various (often weird) locations around my property.

This year was supposed to be different – and it DID start that way! I purchased less than 20 small plants, and I knew exactly where they were going to go ahead of time.

But then one of my “hair-brained ideas” hit and I just HAD to go out a buy 33 more!

Long story short, earlier in the spring I ripped up the grass just outside of my fence (running along the sidewalk), and have planted a row of giant sunflowers (which are doing quite well so far). I thought it might ALSO be fun to run a row of “help yourself” tomatoes right along the sidewalk. I’ve been gradually moving towards creating a suburban “demonstration eco-garden” to help educate the neighborhood a bit (and hopefully make people realize that I’m not just a complete lunatic – haha) – and I thought this would be a great way to make an impact. As it is, I already get quite a lot of nice comments from people walking by, so this has helped me to feel more confident about my idea.

Anyway…after giving my “help yourself tomato fence” idea some more thought, I decided not to go ahead with it this year. I knew it would require a LOT of extra work, along with the seemingly obvious (in hindsight, of course – haha) fact that the “Kong” sunflowers are just going to end up crowding/shading the tomatoes.

SO, I’m left with 33 extra tomato plants – specifically “Tomatoberry” plants. Needless to say, I think this is going to be the “year of the tomato” in my garden!

Ok – now let’s start talking about the fun things I’m going to try out! In this post I’ll talk specifically about my wooden box gardens, but you had better believe there will be other posts featuring OTHER tomato growing approaches, and so on and so forth!

Some of you may recognize these wooden boxes as the containers used for my ill-fated “Worm Composting Potato Towers“. I’m not sure if it was the rainy, cool weather last summer, or flaws in my approach (likely both), but it seemed that potatoes and composting worms were not destined to live together in a mutually beneficial habitat (may try it again at some point though).

Tomatoes, while closely related to potatoes, are a different beast, so I thought I might have more success with them being grown in a similar fashion – i.e. basically being grown in a worm bed. Just to be on the safe side though, I opted to do more of a ‘hybrid’ approach – at least initially (while the plants are still small, and the material in the bin is still fairly unprocessed). As such, I created normal soil zones where the plants are being started.

In one box, I decided to try a four corner approach with “Sweet Million” cherry tomatoes.

Tomato Growing Zones

I started by filling the box with a little yard waste (at the bottom) and aged horse manure/straw. I then excavated cavities in the four corners of the bed. These were then filled with “black earth” soil and some old worm compost before the plants were added.

Planting Sweet Million Tomato Plant

I was thinking it would be cool to add a “Worm Tower” in the middle, but in thinking about it a bit more I decided that I don’t need to get that fancy! I will simply deposit “food” materials directly in the bed (in the central zone) instead. One such food material will be the alpaca manure I wrote about recently, but I’ll almost certainly be adding food wastes as well.

In the second box, I thought I would try growing a single “Beefsteak” tomato plant, smack dab in the middle. I had visions of turning this plant into a giant tomato tree, but as I’ll explain in a minute, my dreams came crashing down in a hurry!

I set up the tomato “habitat” in exactly the same manner as I did in the four corners bin. I dug a hole, filled it will black earth and worm compost, then put in the tomato plant.

Beefsteak Tomato in Worm Box

Unlike the Sweet Million plants (which as you can see in the first picture, are doing just fine), the Beefsteak unfortunately went downhill almost immediately after it was planted (see picture below). I’m not really sure what happened there, but I decided to scrap that approach for the time being – and ended up creating (much more recently) another four-corner bed using grape tomatoes.

Dying Tomato in Worm Box

Based on the healthy appearance of the Sweet Million plants thus far, I am guardedly optimistic that this is going to work out well. At the moment, there aren’t all that many Red Worms in either bed (as compared to some of my other beds), so I think it may be important to up the population fairly soon. I want the tomatoes to have some nice material through-which they can spread their roots – and at the moment, a lot of it is pretty raw stuff (which may explain why the beefsteak didn’t do so well.

In upcoming “Vermi Tomato Gardening” posts I’ll write about my new raised bed (tomato) garden, and my vermi (tomato – haha) container gardens as well! Oh, and of course we’ll have to spend some time talking about tomatoes being grown next to my various vermicomposting trenches, and perhaps a mention of the tomato plant I plan to try in my vermiponics system!

Stay tuned! Much more vermi-tomato content to come.

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    • Anna
    • June 9, 2010

    What did you do with all of the sod you ripped up? I’m ripping out my front lawn and am tempted to put some of the sod in my worm trenches but am hesitating. Any input would be greatly appreciated.

    Good luck on the ‘maters.

    • Nic
    • June 9, 2010

    I also have tomatoes, but i live in florida, so i have several just about some ripening! i planted 3 transplants and have more than 20 tomatoes, as i havent counted recently:) I have a vermicomposters page, and i am putting pics up soon.

    i also have next years’ science fair project well started with the amounts of vermicompost versus growth and production. the top 2 have one tomato each, but the 50% one is huge. i am also putting it on my page in a couple minutes.

    I enjoy reading your blog, and i check almost every day for a new post, and i get many laughs from it. 33 MORE tomatoes??? lol 🙂

    • Nic
    • June 9, 2010

    oops… that was supposed to be almost DONE ripening…. 🙂

    • John in Huntington Beach
    • June 10, 2010

    I read suggestion for use of ripped up sod in a book on pruning, of all places. The author was dealing with a need to make space for trees and shrubs that had overgrown their bounds. One of her solutions was to enlarge the beds by removing sod and pushing out the borders.

    She advised readers to take the sod to an out-of-sight area and stack it upside down, forming a low wall. Then cover the wall with heavy-duty black plastic for a year, after which time, she says, you will have a gorgeous, composted, weed-free batch of crumbly soil to spread around. I am guessing that earthworms will find the wall in a short while and tunnel about, leaving their castings in their wake.

    I am about to try it but it will be awhile before I can report back.

    • Anna
    • June 10, 2010

    Thanks for the tip, John. I’ve been using a lot of my sod in lasagna gardening, but am running out of places to put it. I was hoping to ‘share’ some with my worms but perhaps I’ll take your suggestion instead.

    • Bentley
    • June 10, 2010

    ANNA – I generally just dig it back into the ground or remove as much of the soil as I can and compost the rest. Funny you should ask this since some of my sod waste actually ended up in the bottom of the tomato boxes I wrote about above. Some grass and weeds do grow back but they are always easy to remove. I have a rotten straw mulch over top of the sunflower bed so that helps.
    NIC – Great to see you so passionate about vermicomposting these days! I still remember your very first email (asking advice for another school project, I believe)! As always, please do keep me posted on your progress.
    JOHN – That sounds like good advice! Thanks for sharing that.

    • LARRY D.
    • June 10, 2010

    Nic,if you live in Florida,you better get plenty of stakes for the limbs.I’ve been growing them since march.I have six plants,big boy and bonnie select and original.I have had about 40 tomatoes come off one plant.I’m starting to look like a green fried tomato.

    • John Duffy
    • June 11, 2010

    Hey Bentley,
    If it weren’t for your self-proclaimed “hair-brained” ideas, I don’t think you’d have quite the following of devoted worm fans. I look forward to anything related to worm composting and your creativity just multiplies my interest & enthusiasm. Often the “impossible” is only the “untried.”
    So, any time you have a “hair-brained” idea…Bring it on! We await each & every one;)

    • Nic
    • June 11, 2010

    Larry: i have cages aroud them, and ive actually had to stake acouple branches up, but other than that, there growing great, and lots of tomatoes!

    • LARRY D.
    • June 11, 2010

    Keep Bentley updated on bug issues,leaf problems,growth experiments and such.Since tomatoes seem to be #1 on a lot of growers want lists.We can all learn the benefits of our worm friends!Thanks Nic!

    • Barb V.
    • June 11, 2010

    You’ve given me an idea….As soon as I harvest the potatoes from the ‘tater box’, Im going to use as overflow from my in-ground worm pit … and will plant melons or cukes on edges. Nothing ventured, as they say. And count me as double ditto for enjoying your ‘hairbrained’ experiments. It lets us vicariously tap into our ‘inner mad scientist’.

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