Cherry Tomato Warriors From Mars!

June 8, 2010 · 32 comments · Print This Post

in Garden / Crafty


I’m probably really going to regret how I handled my first balcony container gardening experience. In typical (at least as of late) Erin fashion I planned to research and review and plan out every minute detail but then I procrastinated and avoided and then suddenly woke up on Saturday morning and declared that today was going to be plant buying day!

So off to Home Depot I zipped with CK tagging along to carry the heavy bags of organic potting soil. While probably not the best place for me to shop for plants and accessories it was really all I could manage at this late stage in the game. Fortunately they did have some really cute pots! Which I then proceed to color coordinate to the type of tomato I planted. This means that grape tomatoes are in the purple pot, cherry tomatoes are in the red pot, and regular tomatoes (which in my mind I think of as being “big”) are in the blue pot. Those tomatoes simply had to settle for a little alliteration action.


My biggest worry and one that I’m actually terrified of googling is the fact that the tomato plants I bought on this whirlwind and impulsive shopping trip were quite large and already had flowers and tiny tomatoes sprouting on them. I have a nagging feeling this is not normal plant behavior for so early in the season and therefore not a good thing at all.

Am I wrong? Every night when I step out onto the balcony to water the plants I feel a sense of horror movie like foreboding. In my rational mind I know that the worst thing that can happen is that the little green imps will fall off and the tomato plant will die and nothing will bloom. Unfortunately, my level of anxiety about the silly things leads me to believe that perhaps pod people are going to hatch from the plants and take over Somerville. Hmm…I think I just inadvertently created the next Syfy Saturday night movie plot: Cherry Tomato Warriors From Mars!

Thankfully I have no such qualms about the basil plants. They’re happy, healthy, and growing in abundance just waiting to sacrifice themselves to the culinary good fight in the form of pesto and pizza topping.

The rosemary is holding its own as well, but the parsley could use a little perking up. The killer thunderstorms we had on Sunday afternoon really took their toll on this poor little herb. Hopefully he regains his strength soon or I fear there will have to be a parsley do-over.

Let’s put my personal container gardening anxieties aside for a moment to discuss Dexter’s new obsession: the balcony. I finally allowed him and Watson to go outside for the first time. Watson primly and very slowly and carefully skirted about the perimeter of our walkway area while Dexter made a beeline for freedom. He thoroughly enjoyed his outdoor excursion but eventually I got sick of corralling his fuzzy derriere while I was attempting to shovel dirt into pots and ruining my manicure in the process. So I put the cats back inside. Dexter then promptly threw a fit and repeatedly jumped at the door trying to get back out. I swear … having cats is exactly how I imagine having a toddler must be.

So gardening friends, tell me the cold hard truth that I’m too afraid to look up. Did I totally screw up my experiment by buying possibly mutant tomato plants or do you think I’ll be OK in the end? Next year I’m seriously going to invite Pam and Adrienne over (as they both really seem to know what they’re doing) for a pre-planting summit and truly develop a gardening game plan.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Adrienne June 8, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Psssh, you’re FINE. My tomatoes are starting to flower too, though they haven’t set any fruit yet. It’s possible yours were just started a few weeks earlier than mine in the greenhouse (well, mine were started in my house, but you get the idea). I will say this, though – you should water in the morning, and water the roots, not the leaves. Watering in the morning means the leaves, if they get wet, can use the sun to dry off, and that makes for happy plants. If you water at night the leaves stay wet (no sun!) and it cools off the plant, which makes for less happy plants. I know it’s a piddling little detail, but it’s also “best practices” to use a stupid awful corporate term.

Can you tell I wish I were out mucking in the dirt with my tomatoes instead of sitting in my cube?

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2 Erin June 8, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Yay! What a relief to know I wont be eaten in my sleep by scheming mutant veggies. Also, thank you so very much once again for all of your advice and tips. My parents always watered at night so I just thought that was how it was done. I’ll definitely reverse my schedule now though.

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3 Theresa June 8, 2010 at 3:50 pm

What Adrienne said, you’re fiiiine. I’m not quite as far North as you are (I’m in Virginia), but my tomatoe plants are already blooming and have a few cherry-sized green tomatoes on them. Don’t worry, it’ll take practically forever for them to get big and start turning red – at least the big ones! Your parsley will probably perk up a little too. I find herbs are amazingly resilient, except for the rosemary, which seems to up and die on me at random times.

I am thinking you’re going to wish you had bigger pots for your tomatoes though – at least the “big” ones. They’ll probably grow OK, but if your summers are hot and dry (like ours), you’re going to have to water them a few times a day. I got tired of that, so I bought monster pots for mine. They’re about 24″ tall and 18″ wide.

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4 Erin June 8, 2010 at 3:54 pm

No worries about having long and hot summers in Boston. Last year it rained 98% of the time ;) But I agree. I’m also a little concerned about pot size too. I’ll definitely keep an eye on them and upgrade if needed. As for the “big ones” I totally can’t remember what I bought. See how terribly unprepared I was to deal with this whole “let’s grow tomatoes today” decision? Ha ha …

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5 Amanda June 8, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Just one little suggestion: I think parsley and rosemary have different watering needs, so I don’t know how fantastic they will do together in the same pot. Also, that’s what my basil looked like……..right before it got gigantic! :) But your tomatoes look fine. Mine look like that, but I am in California, so mine were no doubt started pretty early. :) Yay tomatoes!

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6 Lindsey @ pickyeatings June 8, 2010 at 4:41 pm

While I don’t have too much to offer on the plant growing (although I now know that coffee grounds will keep slugs away from your plants), I do know a thing or two about escaping cats. One of mine tries to escape pretty much every time you open the door, which is kind of bad, since then he runs under cars, and he’s also black and looks like every other black cat out there. The other one could care less about going outside, he knows that everything he needs/wants can be found inside our house!

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7 Hänni June 8, 2010 at 6:42 pm

I don’t know anything about tomatoes, but that picture of Dexter and his belly is priceless!

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8 Pam June 8, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Agreed – tomatoes are fine. It’s more of an issue if you’re transplanting them into the ground, where they have to get acclimated to the local dirt chemistry. In the pots, they don’t have that same issue. If you’re concerned, you can snip off the current tomatoes so the plant doesn’t use it’s energy to ripen them and can focus on growing more instead.

I love the pots too!!

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9 windycityvegan June 9, 2010 at 8:03 am

Pam made two very good points – transplanting to the ground is much trickier than transplanting to another pot, and also about snipping off the current tomatoes to conserve energy. The thing about tomato plants is that soil temperature is somewhat significant. Large fluctuations between night- and daytime temps don’t affect ground soil temperatures that much, but it does affect the soil in pots. If you have any unusual cold snaps this summer, do what you can to keep your plants warm!

Oh, and you are so right about cats being like toddlers. Love the picture of Dexter climbing the door!

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10 jo June 9, 2010 at 8:55 am

Ok, my two cents.
As you know tomatoes are just fine. Get a 7-7-7 fertilizer. Potted tomatoes NEED FOOD to grow well.
For basil make sure you pinch off the tops every time the plant tries to flower. This will promote bushy full growth instead of spending its energy on producing the flowers.
The parsley will likely bolt when it gets hot. let that one die back, as your other commenter noted the rosemary and parsley have different water needs. Rosemary is used to getting quite a bit drier (it is a woody herb) vs parsley which likes to be wet (leafy herb).
The balcony looks great and the cat cracked me up. He looks desperate!

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11 Lynne June 9, 2010 at 10:20 am

As was mentioned the Tomatoes should be fine if you keep them well watered, mine too are blooming. I love the pots by the way!!
I am having terrific luck with the Parsley, Chives, Rosemary, Oregano and Lemon Thyme this year but my Basil is dying. I am not amused as I really want to make massive amounts of Pesto to get us through the very long cold winter. I’ll be going to the nursery to try again seeing as it’s getting too late to replant the seeds.

Have you considered growing a pot of Cat Nip just for your furry friends?
I haven’t grown it but my dear friend Nicki does every year and her three cats love it.
She has had to construct a rather sturdy wire cage for it though as she has frequently found the neighbourhood cats laying on top of the plant looking very ‘happy’. Seeing as you have a balcony you shouldn’t have too many issues with other kitties wanting to help themselves.

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12 wummy June 9, 2010 at 10:45 am

You may need to water 2x a day when it gets hot in the city. Also feed them a lot. When it rains take inside or cover them carefully as sometime too much rain in pots make your leaves yellow. The pots may need to be dumped to get the water out. Two years ago I had tomatoes for July 4th!! Not this year still bloomin. You should put your kitties on a leash and tie them to the railing. Just in case.

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13 Jeff D June 9, 2010 at 10:59 am

I agree with the above, I think you’ll be just fine. Just make sure to let the soil dry out on occasion and find some sort of tomato-specific fertilizer for them. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and most particularly need calcium. If they don’t get enough you’ll get blossom end rot, where the bottoms of your tomatoes turn soft and mushy (it’s no fun trust me.) If you want to avoid fertilizers get some bone meal, that should do the trick.

Also keep an eye out for pests. I often got aphids on my tomato plants and they can be a pain to get rid of. By far the best method I ever used was buying ladybugs online and setting them loose on the plants. Never saw an aphid again after that.

Another idea is planting some marigolds or nasturtiums nearby. They tend to drive away pests. And flowers are always a nice add to a garden.

The basil looks great and keep and eye on the dill. It will get really big if you let it.

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14 Lindsey June 9, 2010 at 11:24 am

I keep telling myself I will plant a few containers of herbs outside or by the window. I have no idea how to do that, but it is always on my to do list.

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15 Jeff D June 9, 2010 at 11:33 am

Buy a pot, buy some soil, buy the plants or seeds. That’s about all you need.

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16 Julia Barrett June 9, 2010 at 11:38 am

Holy monsters from mars! I planted from seed this year. DON’T do it. I repeat…DON’T do it! Mine are and inch high.

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17 Tabby June 9, 2010 at 11:45 am

Hi Erin
Your tomatoes should be fine. I planted mine a month and a half ago and I already have tomaotes too. I really think we just have had optimal weather this year. As far as the parsley trim it back it will regrow fuller. What I did with my herbs last year is trimmed the regularly and froze them and the plants re-energized and kept growing and growing not too mention I had fresh frozen herbs all winter. I love your cats!

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18 Diane June 9, 2010 at 1:18 pm

If you end up with too many tomatos, I’ll come and get the excess. We have so many critters around here, that if the deer won’t eat something, one of the others almost certain will. I did manage a very small spot next to the front steps for basil, cilantro, parsley and chives.

Please look at your balcony with the eyes and mind of a cat wondering “hmm, this is cool, where else can I go?”. If the answer is “absolutely nowhere”, then the cats should have a great time, especially if you do plant catnip :)

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19 Aaron June 9, 2010 at 8:10 pm

I’m sure a bunch of other people have said this already but tomatoes are ‘indeterminate’ and will just kind of keep on going… so no worries. Do a search for “epcot tomato tree” if you want to see a beast that’s been growing for 1.5 years or so (and by the way that’s a cherry tomato plant).

And I made the same mistake letting the cats out once… now it’s a constant obsession and recently we left the sliding glass door open with just the screen closed and they chewed through it so that they could get out.

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20 Erin June 9, 2010 at 9:26 pm

I’m googlng the plant you mentioned as I type…also…if Dexter chews through our screens they’re going to have to commit me to McLean. He already does acrobatics all over my bedroom from 3-5 every morning. I’m not sure I can take very much more kitty insanity ;)

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21 Erin June 9, 2010 at 9:12 pm

WindyCityVegan – Thank you so much for the additional suggestions! I really appreciate it. Dexter, on the other hand, continues to do battle with me re: his escape into the outside world. Hopefully I win that one :)

Jo – Great tips on the basil Jo! Also, how often do you think I need to fertilize the tomatoes? I fertilized them when I transplanted them. Do you need to do it weekly? I’m already making plans to re-pot the rosemary into its own home. I also picked up a cilantro plant at the Farmers Market today. Can Parsley and Cilantro live in harmony together? If so they’re destined to become roommates as soon as it stops raining.

PS: Desperate is Dexter’s middle name ;)

Lynne – How could I have forgotten to get catnip?! Of all the things I could grow I can’t believe I forgot a treat for my gruesome twosome. Thank you so much for reminding me! Good luck getting your basil back in line! I think buying a plant that already has a little growth seems to be the best option at this point too. Growing from seed requires such patience — something I don’t tend to have very much of.

Mom – How often exactly do you think I should feed them? I know you’re practically Mrs. Green Jeans and you do everything by feel and look but I’m a complete moron when it comes to growing anything. Remember all of those pots of dirt I used to bring you home for Mother’s Day from school?!

Also, I don’t think I could tie Dexter up. He’s probably try to leap off the balcony into the pool of goldfish below and hurt himself. He’s a tricky one.

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22 Erin June 9, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Jeff D – Thank you for the timely tips on fertilizer and pests…man…I hope I don’t get bugs…that’s so beyond my gardening “pay grade” at this point. But I will definitely try to get some flowers planted soon too. That’s a perfect (and pretty) solution.

Lindsey – My one tip for you is to buy them already grown. It’s much more visually satisfying. I tried to grow from seed once and it was a disaster and turned me off planting of any kind for years. Good luck!

Julia – I’ve tried that before too and it was SO disappointing. I don’t know if I’d ever have the patience/talent to make seeds do anything significant. Come on over! Hopefully I’ll have plenty to share with you.

Tabby – It’s so nice to hear that you have tomatoes already since we’re in the approximately same location. Or at the very least I’ll have company when the mutants emerge….

Do you have any tips on freezing herbs? Do you just put them in plastic bags or are their more steps involved than that?

Diane – Thanks so much for your note! I’m glad you were able to plant something that wont be attacked by local marauding wildlife. I unfortunately fear the cats are going to be very disappointed and have to stay inside. I’ve been thinking about trying to put a harness on Dexter and taking him for a walk on a leash. I’m positive Watson would rather go to the vet than let me put a harness on him, but Dexter might be cool…I on the other hand would look like a total tool — that’s what I’m wrestling with now. To be a tool or not…that is the question ;)

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23 Sara Corinne July 2, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Freezing herbs is easy, but I would chop them first. Then place them in the wells of a silicone ice cube tray to freeze. Once they’re solid, I pop them in a labeled zip-loc bag. And yay- fresh pesto year-round!

Also, I start all my herbs and veggies from seed every year (except cilantro, it never likes to start from seed for some weird reason) but I’m spoiled with my Aerogarden seed starter tray so it’s basically no work, and I have little green leaves in my house in February to brighten up the gross, gray winter! If you turn into a gardening guru, you may want to look into such fun gadgets… :)

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24 LaChelle @ SugarDuchess June 11, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Oh good, I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who rushed off to Home Depot to buy tomato plants :) This is the first year my husband and I have had our own yard and garden, so it’s a total science experiment for me. I love your pot color coordination. And your herbs! Rad.

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25 Vanessa June 11, 2010 at 4:25 pm

This may not be the same situation…. but I bought some Strawberry plants from Home Depot a few months ago since I couldn’t find seeds anywhere local. When I bought I didn’t notice it at the time but one plant had a little red Strawberry already growing. About a month later it still hadn’t produced anything else and I worried that it wasn’t going to grow anymore berries. Long story short last month it started growing Strawberries and they are delicious. Your tomatoes should be fine! I wish my tomatoes would hurry up , I started from seeds and they are growing very slowly!

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26 Kelly June 14, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Thanks for the follow up comment on my blog. I actually have a $50 gift card to Williams Sonoma that’s been just kicking around so I’m thinking of cashing it in for the popsicle maker. It’s totally frivilous but I’m excited and someone getting me a gift card is the equivalent of someone buying it for me. Right…

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27 Erin June 15, 2010 at 10:38 am

Kelly – When frivolity is free I think anything goes and all guilt is instantly erased. I hope you enjoy the pop maker! It’s really pretty exciting that you can actually see the Popsicles freezing right in front of your eyes.

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28 keri June 19, 2010 at 9:36 am

Hey just wonsering where you got the planters with the basil in them? The one’s that go on iron railing. Thanks

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29 Erin June 21, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Keri – I’m not sure if you’re in the Boston area but I purchased the white planters at a store called Pemberton Farms (http://www.pembertonfarms.com/).

I’m sure you can find something similar at your local gardening center, Home Deport, or Target though.

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30 Steph June 24, 2010 at 10:21 pm

The photo of Dexter is hilarious! We have an escape artist too. Our cat likes to bust out of the screened porch that we built just for him to be able to go outside. It isn’t good enough. He is like Dexter – he wants to be completely outside!

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31 Tran July 1, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Just found your website and read a few posts (including this one). I don’t have any plants myself (unless you count the barely living succulent in my cubicle at work), but I did hear something on NPR that you might want to be aware of… I don’t mean to alarm you, but would hate for that beautiful basil to go to waste if it succumbs to this disease:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128061773

In any case… it hasn’t spread too far.. but something to keep an eye out for.. GOOD LUCK!!

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32 Bren July 5, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Love all the herbs you’re growing. Jealous. Let me know how the tomato growing goes! Sounds like a topsy turvy idea (pun intended); but I’ve seen all teh commercials for them and have been so intrigued by their success! DO tell!

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