taradal
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tomatoes grown in pure compost

Last year I had a terrible time with disease, so this year I'm growing only hybrid disease resistant tomatoes in my garden and I'm growing my precious heirlooms in large pots.
I found some very large,( I would guess 20 gallon) plastic pots. I put in about 6 inches of wheat staw, soaked it with water and kept turning it for about a week, until it was starting to rot.
I then found a source for composted horse, goat, chicken and rabbit manure, (all grown organically!) that has been composting with wood chips for a year or two.
I filled all the pots with the compost and I've ordered worms, (I figured they won't be able to get into the pots on their own) and I'm planning on putting in my heirlooms this week.
Now a friend tells me that tomatoes shouldn't be grown in pure compost-that I should have mixed with top soil. Is this true? The manure is thoroughly composted-it looks like very rich, velvety soft earth-just a few larger wood chips still have not broken down. But did I make a mistake? Should I add anything else?

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hendi_alex
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Re: tomatoes grown in pure compost

My anecdotal evidence would say that your friend is wrong. Each year I have a few tomato plants to volunteer in my compost pile. The plants thrive and seem to grow better and suffer less signs of disease than any of my cultivated plants.

That said, I do use about a 50-50 mix of compost and high quality potting soil for my plants that are placed in large 15 gallon to 25 gallon black pots.

Whether potted or in the ground, all of my plants end up getting hit by summer blight, so am not sure that your strategy will allow the plants to stay healthy through the humid, hot part of the summer. I just started a thread on this issue of managing tomato disease in the south. Perhaps we will get some good ideas from that discussion.
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Dillbert
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Re: tomatoes grown in pure compost

growing in "pure compost" is likely not the major concern from what I see.

but - there's always one of those . . . .
>>composted horse, goat, chicken and rabbit manure,

when the soil / conditions are "too rich" tomatoes are known to make a lot of greenery and not so much "thingies that turn red"

when plants / animals are 'threatened' they will put all available energy into reproduction. that's them green-turning-to-red thingies with seeds inside.....

if you are seed saving heirlooms, I'd strongly recommend hedging your bet by diluting at least some of that ultra-manure aka nitrogen rich mix down to 1:3 with 'plain ole garden dirt'

taradal
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Re: tomatoes grown in pure compost

Interesting posts! This morning I went ahead and filled all the pots with pure compost. However, I will be growing more than one tomato in each pot, (probably three) as well as herbs and various other things,(cukes, beans and melons)
I'm going to go do a search for that thread about Southern diseases. Hoping to read about some good remedies. I think one thing I may have done wrong, last year, was to do a do weekly foliar sprays of compost tea. I'm thinking that putting so much moisture on the leaves might not have been good :(

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hendi_alex
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Re: tomatoes grown in pure compost

Eclectic gardening style, drawing from 45 years of interest and experience. Mostly plant in raised beds and containers primarily using intensive gardening techniques.
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applestar
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Re: tomatoes grown in pure compost

I suspect compost pile on the ground with access for the roots to seek out the soil beneath is different from a container isolated from the ground. Compot pile is also aerated from the sides. Compost alone may not provide good drainage in a container. While still small, the plants may find it too soggy. (I still think it should be mixed with soil and larger particulates like coarse sand, gravel, but I've never tried growing in pure compost.)

What is the purpose of the rotted straw? Interesting.

20 gallon may seem big, but three large indeterminate tomatoes will be too many. Possibly dwarfs or smaller determinates. Which variety heirlooms -- it will to some extent depend on the variety.

PLUS cukes and melons? I think cukes and melons will take over.

Herbs -- some herbs may be OK with same growing conditions in a large pot with tomatoes but large or not, tomato will need frequent watering especially once they start to fruit. The herbs may find it too wet or too dry.
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hendi_alex
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Re: tomatoes grown in pure compost

I agree about the size pot and number of plants. I only put one plant in a 20-25 gallon pot. Would consider putting two in a large self watering pot.
Eclectic gardening style, drawing from 45 years of interest and experience. Mostly plant in raised beds and containers primarily using intensive gardening techniques.
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Re: tomatoes grown in pure compost

I also only put one plant in an 18 gallon container. Tomatoes need a lot of root space and they would compete for nutrients since they are heavy feeders.

I don't know how much compost and manure you put in the pots.

I have no luck with manure in pots. Manures chicken and steer at any rate are high in salts and I have not successfully grown anything with manure in pots. Manure tea, is a different story. That seemed to be o.k. I also found that more than 20% compost was a problem. The plants started out fine, but after about a month, they yellowed and died. It looked like the media was not able to dry out fast enough. however, I do water nearly everyday and between that and the rain, I probably did over water as well.

My compost at least has a pH 7.8 and tomatoes would rather have a pH that is more acidic.
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taradal
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Re: tomatoes grown in pure compost

I guess I thought I could do more than one tomato per pot if I had really rich soil-intensive gardening? Last year I had tomato plants 30 inches apart and put in melons, cukes, herbs and beans in between them-no space was wasted- and the tomatoes did fine. Well, at least until they didn't. But that was the end of July when whatever disease they had got them.
I will try four compost-only pots as an experiement and four more with a compost/top soil blend and see which does better. And plant three tomatoes in some compost only pots and two tomatoes in others and some with just one tomato plant.
Thank you, everyone, for sharing your views!
The disease thread is very interesting-sounds like the problem I had.

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applestar
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Re: tomatoes grown in pure compost

Sounds good. I love experimenting to find out what works. :D
Don't forget about the well draining part. Unless the compost has a fair amount of larger aggregate pieces, the topsoil/compost mix will compact and will not drain well.

With containers, I suspect packing with nutrient richness won't be effective because initially the mix would be TOO rich, and then later, all the nutrients will be delayed out by the frequent watering. IMHO, it would be better to put the richer stuff mixed with larger chunky material in the bottom and layered with somewhat less rich, medium sized materials in the upper portion. I put unscreened home made compost mixed with alfalfa pellets, paver block base or aquarium gravel and topsoil in the bottom half and medium screened compost mixed with potting soil (or topsoil/sand mix) Top half. I usually mix rock phosphate, greensand, and dolomitic lime in both.

Please keep us updated on their progress. I would like to know what would work best too. 8)
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hendi_alex
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Re: tomatoes grown in pure compost

Don't give up on 'in the ground'. I use a combination every year. It is just not possible to predict how the plants will perform from one year to the next. Funny thing, down south, regular rain fall seems to be the number one biggest enemy of tomatoes. During a very dry summer, the plants do much better because disease doesn't spread so rapidly. That is one reason that I'm considering growing a few plants under a cover.

One approach that I take is in setting a much smaller container of 3-5 gallon about 4 inches in the ground. That prevents excess water run off and holds moisture levels more steady. It also makes it less likely that fire ants will take up residence in the pot. The plants get a very healthy start before the roots actually penetrate the soil, through drain holes in the pot. These plants are more drought resistant than those in totally freestanding pots, and also tend to avoid any back splash from native soil.

While most of my plants have been dying from disease in mid to late July, that doesn't mean that they didn't give an abundant crop. So the in ground plants most always earn their keep, even if they don't make it through that disease ridden hot part of the summer. I always have some replacement plants growing, and as soon as temperatures moderate in August, plants are placed in the ground and in containers for a fall crop. Each year the fall tomatoes start producing in late September or early October and produce until frost.

I'm just trying to find some technique that helps avoid the 4-6 week break in production during mid summer. Lack of fruit set because of higher temperatures has never been a problem, just the inevitable loss of vines due to summer blight or what ever disease hits at that time of the year.
Eclectic gardening style, drawing from 45 years of interest and experience. Mostly plant in raised beds and containers primarily using intensive gardening techniques.
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gixxerific
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Re: tomatoes grown in pure compost

I am using 1/2 & 1/2 top soil and compost for my pots with just a little potting soil to loosen it up a bit. I wish I would have went 3/4 compost 1/4 top soil. The mix might be a little dense for pots.

As far as compost it is a great medium in my eyes. I just got a soil test and after adding tons of manure and compost every year it turns out my soil is very high in everything. The pH is a tad off at 7.2 but that is not bad.

Good luck I think you should be fine with your pots.

taradal
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Re: tomatoes grown in pure compost

OK-this will be fun.
Maybe the trick is just to accept that, in the south, you need to have seedlings ready to replant in August. I like that! I feel less frustrated if I'm not trying so hard to fight all that late July/early August disease. I agree-I got a pretty good crop before that happened

Just wondering-do the supposedly "disease resistant" varieties do any better? Someone gave me a bunch of seedlings that are going into my in-ground garden. They're one of thse "BHN" varieties, developed especially for muggy southern summers. I might put in a couple of heirlooms, too-just to see if they do any better. Last year, Black Cherrys and Goose Creek were the last to get sick, so I might put those in and just see.

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hendi_alex
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Re: tomatoes grown in pure compost

I think that it is one of the BHN varieties that my local nursery sells for about $3 per plant. I'm too tight to pay that, but he swears that the plants pay no attention to diseases that affect most tomato plants.
Eclectic gardening style, drawing from 45 years of interest and experience. Mostly plant in raised beds and containers primarily using intensive gardening techniques.
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gloriadyer
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Re: tomatoes grown in pure compost

Hello, I am new to this Forum. I noticed that most of these posts are from last year and I would love to know how it went planting in pure compost. I just built two raised bed planters 2 feet from
the ground. I used gardening blocks made for that purpose and they look fabulous. I needed a lot to fill them so I went to our landfill which composts recycled plant material from the community. 2 cubic yards cost me $28.00. It was twice what I needed by the way. The planters are 4ftx 2ft outside dimension. There was a little bit of dirt that we added to it but is mostly compose. It is like black powdered sugar and can blow easily if not wetted. I am hoping it will work since I just finished planting strawberries, tomatoes , onions, herbs, peppers, chard.
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taradal
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Re: tomatoes grown in pure compost

An update from my original post: growing tomatoes in pure compost worked GREAT!!! I had my best tomato harvest EVER. I'm doing it again, this season: 20 gallon pots filled with pure compost.

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Re: tomatoes grown in pure compost

Hi Gloria, and welcome. Those planters are beautiful. Wow!
My definition of insanity; trying to grow heirloom tomatoes in South Florida!

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applestar
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Re: tomatoes grown in pure compost

@Taradal, thanks for coming back with a follow-up 8)

Can you re-cap the details?

- 20 gal containers (what material, what kind of holes)
- pure compost (source?)
- how many of what kind of plants? Please mention specific varieties.
- any other details you remember -- how often watered and how, etc.

Thanks! :D
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gixxerific
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Re: tomatoes grown in pure compost

Yes thanks for the report. I knew it would ok. What is compost but pre soil???

But that seals the deal I was thinking of going 50/50 top soil/compost. But I think it will do 1/2 yard compost to 1/4 yard top soil for my pots.

taradal
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Re: tomatoes grown in pure compost

Pots were plastic. I drilled holes about 5" up from the bottom, on the sides. Compost was a mixture of horse, cow, chicken, rabbit- very well-composted. Had a velvety texture. I added rabbit manure and a bit of liquid kelp. Mulched the plants with 6-8 inches of dried leaves and straw and added worms. In the past, I've tried to baby along plants that showed signs of early disease. Pinching, pinching leaves that had lesions or showed signs of yellowing/browning/curling. Last year, I went take no prisoners: any tomato plant showing signs of early disease got yanked up and into the garbage bin right away. Even if they were producing blooms! Ended up with 7 pots containing 1 plant each, 2 pots with 2 and 6 in my garden. Most of the tomato gardeners in my area gave up-I had a very nice harvest from heirlooms, as well as the hybrids. I did not prune, at all, and I did no foliar sprays, both changes from previous years.
Oh, and my best producers were Black Russian, Goose Creek, Bhn 1021, Amelia and Cherokee Purple.

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