As mentioned in my previous post about melons , here are some things that we can take note of when we’re growing melons in containers. :)
1. Grow Seedlings
Start by planting seeds in small plastic cups filled with soil. It’s best to plant one seed in each cup for easier transplanting. Then, sprinkle fertilizer on the soil to help the seedling grow. After two weeks, it will most likely grow 4-5 inches long. By this time, you’ll see heart-shaped leaves (well, sort of) which have a furry texture.
2. Transfer to a Bigger Pot
When the seedling is about 4 inches long, you may transplant it so its roots can grow deeper in a bigger bed or pot of soil. You may use a large pot that is 15” wide and 15” tall. Any pot or container with a similar or larger dimension is enough. Before carefully transferring the seedling, make sure to sprinkle fertilizer on the soil and mix thoroughly. I usually add 2-3 tablespoons of powdered organic fertilizer to loose soil.
One important factor to consider when transferring the seedling is being gentle with the roots. Transplanting can be very stressful for any plant, so try to do your best not to damage or cut the roots in the process. Also, once the seedling is placed in its new container, its roots must be covered with soil and mulch (e.g. dried leaves, hay, etc.). This will protect the roots from being exposed too much to the heat of the sun.
3. Watch Out for Flowers (Male and Female)
This is one unique trait of fruit-bearing vines. They grow male AND female flowers. The latter ones eventually become the fruit, when they are properly pollinated with the male flowers. It’s important to look out for the flowers when the plant is growing because the female flower only opens up for a few hours in its lifetime.
If you don’t get to transfer pollens from the male flower to the female flower, the fruit won’t grow. The male flowers will first appear and then, after a few days, female flowers will bloom too. The difference between the two is the flower’s stalk. The male flowers have a thin stalk; while the female flowers will have a rounded one, similar to having a small ball below the yellow petals.
4. Pollinate by Hand
When the fruit-bearing vines are grown in larger areas like farms and fields, pollination is usually done by the bees. But, if we want to grow fruits from vines in smaller containers at home, it would require pollination by hand. How exactly do we pollinate by hand? It’s a simple process, but it can only be done when the female flower opens up. Once you see the petals of the female flower spread out, you can get one to three male flowers and remove its petals.
Our goal is to transfer the yellow dots (pollens) from the middle of the male flowers to the bud of the female flowers by carefully rubbing it against the latter. After a few hours, you’ll notice that the petals of the female flowers will start to close up and cover the bud. Then, in a few days, it will begin to form the fruit.
5. Fertilize and Water when needed
You can add fertilizer to the plant every time it goes through the different stages of growth (e.g. when the plant grows it leaves, longer stems, flowers, and fruits). Another option is to add fertilizer every two weeks. On the other hand, when it comes to watering the plant, you can water the plant once a day, depending on the weather in your area. Since it’s hot and humid in the Philippines (where I live), I usually water the plant once or twice a day. However, by the time the fruit matures, it’s best to lessen the water added to the plant’s soil. Overwatering may hinder the fruit from reaching its maximum sweetness.
Melons that are ready for harvest will show the ff. signs:
a. The color of the melon will turn from green to orange or yellow orange.
b. The fruit will have a sweet smell especially when you go closer to the stem of the fruit.
c. The stem will easily detach from the fruit when you slightly move the melon.
If you are into gardening, growing fruits from vines is a fun and challenging experience that I would recommend. There’s nothing like slicing a sweet, homegrown melon in half and seeing the seeds and juices flow on the chopping board. It was such a refreshing and delightful moment! If you would like to give it a try, I would encourage you to plant the seeds in January or February, so you can harvest it by March or April. Fruit-bearing vines don’t grow well during the rainy season. Hopefully, I can try to grow more early next year.
A few weeks ago, I started to grow a new batch of cherry tomato plants and I ended up planting a lot of seeds. I didn’t expect all of them to grow, but by God’s grace, they did! So, for quite some time now, I’ve had more than 15+ seedlings happily growing in their own cups at home. However, because we didn’t have space for these 15 cherry tomato plants anymore, I decided to give the seedlings away. I posted a photo of them on my Facebook page with a caption: “Giving away 10-15 cherry tomato seedlings. Let me know if you want one!” Surprisingly, a lot of friends left comments on the photo and accepted the challenge of growing their own cherry tomatoes at home. YOU ARE AMAZING. Thank you!!!
To my new gardener friends, I hope and pray that you will enjoy your gardening adventure with your new seedlings as you see them grow and bear fruit in the coming months. To show my support, I listed down some of the helpful tips I’ve learned over the past years in growing cherry tomatoes at home. Enjoy! :)
HOW TO GROW CHERRY TOMATOES AT HOME
Materials you’ll need:
A Hard Plastic Pot with holes at the bottom — at least 12”x12” in height and diameter.
1 bag of loose potting soil — enough to fill the pot.
Fertilizer for tomatoes/vegetables
Long bamboo sticks or similar ones (about at least a meter tall) that can help hold the plant upright.
Plastic straw – for tying/securing the plant on the sticks
Mulch or dried leaves/straw/twigs
Add loose potting soil to a cup (4/5 full) and lightly bury a seed or two in the soil. You can plant two seeds in one cup just in case one of them doesn’t germinate or grow. However, if both seeds successfully grow in one cup, make sure to carefully separate the two seedlings (without damaging the stem or roots) while they’re still small or about an inch tall. When the seedlings grow a few more inches (2-3”), you may now move them to a bigger container with holes at the bottom and with a good drainage system. By doing so, they will develop more roots and help the plant become more sturdy. I usually fill half of the pot/container with soil and then sprinkle some of the fertilizer before filling it up with potting soil again. Once its ready, I dig a hole in the middle of the container, remove the seedling growing in the cup of soil, and gently place it inside the hole. I also top the soil with mulch or dried twigs and leaves to help retain the moisture in the soil.
WATERING THE TOMATO PLANTS
As the seedlings grow in their new pot, it’s very important to regularly water them. When I was younger, I thought that watering just the leaves of the plants was the best way to provide for their H2O needs. However, after experimenting with different fruit-bearing plants over the past years, I learned that in order to keep the plant happy and healthy, we must focus on watering the soil — where the roots are. Even if we don’t water the leaves, the plant will still grow as long as we regularly water the soil and roots.
How often should we water the plants?
Once a day is enough. However, if you live in a tropical country (like me!), the plant will most likely want to be watered twice a day – once in the morning and once in the evening.
How do you know when the water is enough or too much for the plant?
When we water plants in containers, a good way to know if we’ve added enough water is if we start to see the water come out of the drainage holes of the pot. When this happens, you may already stop watering since we know that most, if not all, parts of the soil in the pot already received water.
PROTECTING THE ROOTS
In the first two parts of this post, I’ve mentioned how important it is to take care of the plant’s roots. Even though we don’t usually see the roots, they play a very important part in helping the plant grow and bear fruit. Not only do they serve as a support for the whole plant, but they also absorb all the water and nutrients found in the soil! So, how can we protect the roots? It’s pretty simple. Keep them covered with soil! We don’t want the roots to be exposed under the scorching hot sun or the extremely cold weather at night. We want them to be wrapped with a blanket of soil ALWAYS. If ever you see the plant’s roots peeking or coming out every now and then, you can lightly throw more potting soil on it, until you can’t see the roots anymore.
SUPPORTING THE PLANT
When I first planted tomato seeds at home, I didn’t know anything about growing them. It was only until the plant had reached its “teenage years” that I realized the importance of providing a sturdy support system for it. Supporting the plant may be done by letting it grow inside a store-bought tomato cage or by tying the plant on strong and long sticks secured on the soil.
Since I planted my tomatoes in containers (large pots and beds), I didn’t have enough space to use tomato cages. So, I made use of thick, ordinary sticks and thin bamboo sticks to secure and support the plants. I tied them on the sticks with a plastic straw (the one used in tying huge cardboard boxes). And as the plants grew, I just adjusted and added the plastic straws attached to them. Be extra careful in tying the plants. Make sure not to damage the stems or use straws/strings with sharp edges that may harm and scrape the stems.
Although it might require a bit more effort, staking and supporting the plants early on will be very helpful, especially when the plant develops flowers and fruits. The cherry tomatoes will eventually weigh the plant down, so it’s important to keep the main stem and branches upright and secure. We wouldn’t want them to snap off and break.
FERTILIZING THE PLANTS
Tomato plants love to be fed with nutrients. So, as the plants grow, they need to be surrounded with fertilizer every now and then. I add fertilizer to the potting soil in four different stages:
On the day of planting the tomato seedling
When the plant is about two feet tall
When the plant starts to produce flowers
After it starts growing cherry tomatoes
The best thing about growing your own vegetables and fruits at home is you can control the materials added to the soil. For the past years, I’ve used organic and natural fertilizers in my soil. But, if you prefer to use chemicals, then it can still help the plant grow and bear fruit. For the natural fertilizers, you may use the ff. in your soil: compost, washed and crushed egg shells, banana peels, coffee grounds, washed shrimp shells, raw fish heads, Epsom salt, etc. You may also try organic tomato fertilizer spikes sold in the hardware or gardening stores.
Note: When fertilizing tomato plants, it’s important to provide a healthy amount of nitrogen to the plant during its early stages. After the plant grows more vines and branches, you may lessen the nitrogen in-take and add more phosphorus and potassium in the fertilizer-soil mixture.
HARVESTING CHERRY TOMATOES
After around 2-3 months of growing your tomato plants, cherry tomato flowers will start to appear. Yay! When this happens, the plant will then concentrate all of its energy to produce the fruits. While waiting for the flowers to turn into cherry tomatoes, you’ll need to prune the plant every now and then to make sure that the energy of the plant is directed to the fruits and not to unnecessary stems and branches. Let me introduce to you, the “suckers” of the tomato plants. These suckers or small branches grow at a 45 degree angle in between two main branches. You’ll need to carefully pluck these off especially when your plant already has flowers because if you don’t, they will suck the energy produced by the plant and less energy will go to the flowers and fruits.
It usually takes 3-4 months before a cherry tomato plant bears fruit, depending on your location and weather. As soon as you see the yellow flowers, you’ll know that it’ll only take a few more weeks before you can harvest your homegrown, juicy, and sweet tomatoes. The tomatoes can still ripen after you’ve harvested them from the plant, but I like to keep mine in the vine just until they become red (not overripe) so that they can reach its maximum sweetness. To harvest the tomatoes, you can gently twist and turn each fruit until they come off or you may cut the individual stems of the tomatoes.
So, there you have it! :) I really hope that you can explore growing cherry tomatoes at home! It is definitely a fulfilling and fun thing to do. Gardening at home has helped me so much in learning more about nature, befriending earthworms, appreciating food, developing my character, learning from my mistakes, and being reminded of how amazing God is. It really is a privilege to witness seeds grow and produce fresh fruits and vegetables at home.
Happy gardening, everyone! Feel free to share your tomato gardening experiences with me too.
Encourage yourself one treat at a time. :)
“It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.” –1 Corinthians 3:7