How to grow tomatoes in the city

A common crop that home gardeners like to grow is the tomato. Some reasons behind this are because tomatoes are easy to grow and are versatile fruits that can be added to almost any dish. They can also be eaten raw or made into condiments. 

Gwen Librodo, a legal document automation specialist, has also tried, and succeeded, in growing the crop in her condominium because of the same reasons.

“Considering I live in a condominium with limited planting space, I needed to make sure that the plants I grow are suitable to my limited space and resources. So, I researched by reading articles and posts about other people's experiences in growing tomatoes,” she said.

Gwen Librodo grows tomatoes because it can be consumed in various ways.

Librodo became interested in urban gardening when she received free marigold seeds from one of the members of Manila Grows Food, a Facebook support group on urban gardening. 

Inspired by the growth of her marigold during the lockdown, and with the tomato seeds she saved from kitchen scraps, Librodo decided to grow tomatoes as well. 

Here’s how she did it. 

When growing tomatoes, Librodo said that it requires good quality soil, pots, water, fertilizer, and six to eight hours of direct sunlight.

According to Librodo, good quality soil is one of the requirements in growing tomatoes.

“First off, you need to start with quality soil. I used loam soil, which I bought online. I sowed the tomatoes using a milk tetra box indoors by the window getting indirect sun. It's important that they get enough sun, otherwise, they will grow leggy,” she said.

She began by planting saved tomato seeds in recycled milk carton tetra packs.

When the true leaves of her tomato plants appeared, she transplanted them to a bigger container so that the plants can develop a good root system before being planted in their permanent pots outdoors. 

Once her tomato plants grew taller, around two times the diameter of the pot, Librodo began relocating them outdoors where they can get exposed to the morning sun. She brings them back indoors when the sun gets too hot. 

“I did this for a week or so to harden them off and make them ready for transplant to their permanent pots,” the legal document automation specialist said. 

She chose recycled five-liter water bottles as the tomato plants’ permanent pots. 

“According to my research, the ideal pot size is an 18-inch diameter for determinate tomatoes and a 24-inch diameter for indeterminate tomatoes. Since my tomatoes were from kitchen scrap, I wasn't sure if they were determinate or indeterminate. But since I have limited space and wanted to work with only what I have, I collected five-liter water bottles from people I know,” Librodo shared. 

Maintaining her tomato plants 

After she transplanted her tomato plants to their permanent pots outdoors, Librodo had to make sure that they thrived in their new environment.

Living in a condominium on the 17th floor of a building, Librodo had to find ways to make her plants adapt to the environment.

She did this by placing the pots on the southeast window of her condominium unit where they can get morning sun until about 11:00 AM. 

“I watered them twice a day--every morning and late afternoon. Without resorting to synthetic fertilizers, I made my own calphos from crushed eggshells. I would water them with calphos twice a week,” Librodo shared.

Once her plants have grown from seeds, Librodo made sure that they receive the right amount of sun and other requirements.

To help the tomatoes direct their energy toward producing fruit rather than producing more foliage, Librodo also prunes excess foliage and nips off suckers or the small shoots that sprout out from where the stem and the branch of a tomato plant meet. 

Librodo also self-pollinates the flowers since she didn't have natural pollinators on the 17th floor in the building where she resides. 

“Seeing the plant thrive and bear fruits knowing that I grew them from seeds was fulfilling. The sense of fulfillment encouraged me to wait, teaching me patience, and helped me cope with the effects of the lockdown,” she said. 

Because of her patience and passion for gardening, Librodo managed to grow tomatoes in her condominium located on the 17th floor. Now, she gets to enjoy consuming the fruits of her labor according to her preference. 

Photos courtesy of Gwen Librodo

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