Thursday, October 29, 2015

Growing Heirloom Tomatoes With Less Water and Less Work

Growing heirloom tomatoes is something most every gardener should do.  While we have previously had great luck growing hybrid Roma and Cherry tomatoes, we have found growing heirloom tomatoes to be more than a little frustrating (note to the new gardener - an heirloom tomato is a variety that has been present for many decades with no recent change in its genetics, and is generally considered to be better tasting but more disease prone and slower growing than newer hybrid varieties).

The problem with heirloom tomatoes is watering.  These tomatoes demand consistent water to their roots and generally need the same amount of water every day.  Too little water and the tomato will not grow.  If the tomato gets too much water at any one time (including from rain) the inside of the tomato fruit can grow faster than the skin and the tomato can split.  Also, water from above can cause many diseases leaves or fruit itself - and it can be very difficult to only water the base once the tomato has grown large.  We wanted to find a way to give the tomatoes consistent water while reducing the work of watering, as well as keep water off the leaves and fruits.  We planned to do this by using the Groasis Waterboxx - as explained below.

We started our two Brandywine heirloom tomatoes inside and transplanted them outside into our raised bed on May 2 as seen below.  We gave these tomatoes 4 square feet (2x2'), and planted two in this area.  We used the evaporation cover that comes with the Waterboxx and prevents evaporation and weed growth to space the tomatoes.  We then watered them well (with liquid fertilizer containing water), before finally placing the evaporation cover at the base of the plants.  We then carefully set a Groasis Waterboxx over the top of the plants, being very careful not to damage the stems.  We then filled the Waterboxx full of water with a hose (with approximately 4 gallons or 15 liters of non-fertilized water).

The planting of two Brandywine tomatoes on May 2, 2015.  The tomatoes were started from seed indoors and then transplanted after the last frost date.  They were watered for ~15 seconds, and then the white evaporation cover was put around them.  The final picture on the right shows the Groasis Waterboxx placed around the two tomato plants.  The Waterboxx was filled with 15 liters (around 4 gallons) of water and will supply the tomatoes with all their water.
The Groasis Waterboxx comes with one wick inserted which slowly drips water to the roots of the plant.  With one wick, the Waterboxx doesn't need manually refilling, but since we were growing two water hungry plants, we decided to place 3 extra wicks for a total of 4 total wicks.  With this many wicks, periodic manual refilling of the Waterboxx will be needed which we will document on this post.


The two heirloom tomatoes on May 19, 2015, 17 days after transplanting.  These have not had any external water beside what is provided to them by the Waterboxx but continue to grow very well.  

On May 26, the water level was low enough in the Waterboxx due to the three extra wicks that we needed to manually refill it.  The Waterboxx completely fills with 4 inches of rainfall, but May has been a dry month since planting.  In previous years (before planting with the Waterboxx), we would have needed to water these tomatoes every other day to ensure the same level of growth.

The heirloom tomatoes on 6/3/15.  The amount of growth in the last 2 weeks has been astounding.  We just now see our first blooms the the plant, especially impressive since these are such slow growing plants normally.  The Waterboxx is providing all water needs for the tomatoes.  
We have not had to refill the Waterboxx again since the three weeks without rain.  Since this Waterboxx has four wicks, it would need refilled during periods of no rain and rapid growth.

The two heirloom tomatoes on June 18,2015.  No fruits yet but some flowers are just now beginning.  
Our weather here has went from very dry in May to very wet in June.  Without the Waterboxx, our tomatoes almost certainly would have split from this.  However, the Waterboxx regulates how much water the central roots of the tomato get - and we don't have a single splitting tomato!

An heirloom Brandywine Tomato on June 30.  This tomato hasn't had any water added manually in over a month, and yet it grows perfectly.
All of our Waterboxx tomatoes are covered with fruit.  Our neighbor was over visiting and he commented that he wished he could get his tomatoes to produce like ours.  We will have to give him a Waterboxx.

We did add 4 small Jobe's organic fertilizer spikes to the soil around the Waterboxx sheltering the plants on July 1.

A nice ripe Waterboxx tomato on 7/27/2015- excellent for BLTs, salads, and pasta sauce.

We had significant store damage earlier in the year to our tomato plants, but still managed to harvest 17 heirloom tomatoes from the Waterboxxes - all without any watering after May.  Most of our neighbors never got even one tomato from their plants in this overly wet and overcast summer!

The Waterboxx eliminates the need for watering, prevents tomato splitting, and dramatically decreases work in the garden.  You can buy the Groasis Waterboxx here.  We are growing several other plants with the Waterboxx.

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