Make a Tomato Tub

This fun project is a great way to introduce kids to vegetable gardening! Use our simple steps to create a container garden for your deck, patio, or balcony.

By Jane McKeon


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Tomato tub
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    In May 2011, First Lady Michelle Obama and Better Homes and Gardens hosted Lunch on the Lawn for eight students from Washington, D.C.'s Harriet Tubman Elementary School. On the menu were healthy, kid-friendly recipes inspired by the White House Kitchen Garden. Each child went home with a plastic tub, a tomato seedling, a packet of lettuce seeds, and a how-to booklet on growing a mini vegetable garden. Read on for step-by-step planting instructions, geared for kids, on how to make your own tomato tub.

    Read on for step-by-step planting instructions, geared for kids, on how to make your own tomato tub.

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Start with the Container

    Just about any large container (at least 18 inches across) that will hold soil will do; we chose a 3-gallon Tubtrug. Don't skimp on the size of the pot; tomatoes like lots of room for root growth -- and the bigger the pot, the less often you'll have to water. If your container doesn't have drainage holes, ask an adult to drill five 1-inch-wide holes in the bottom of the tub. (Tomatoes don't like to have wet feet!)

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Prepare the Container

    Cover the drainage holes with pieces of broken pots or gravel. This will let the excess water drain through so your tomatoes won't drown, but keep the potting soil from escaping and making a big mess.

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Plant Your Tomato

    Fill the tub to within 1-2 inches of the top with good potting soil. (Don't use garden soil.) Dig a hole in the center of the tub the same size as the tomato's pot. Remove the tomato plant from its pot, and if the roots are tangled, gently loosen them.

    Test Garden Tip: Select a space-saving tomato variety, such 'Tiny Tim', 'Cherry Gold', 'Red Robin', 'Yellow Canary', 'Pixie Hybrid', 'Patio Hybrid', 'Small Fry', 'Super Bush', or 'Sun Gold'. If none of these is available, choose one that is described on the label as a compact, patio, or bush type.

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Secure Your Tomato

    "Tuck in" your tomato plant by pressing the soil around the roots. This keeps the plant from being too wobbly in the pot so it won't blow over in the wind, and also gets rid of any air pockets around the roots, which can dry them out.

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Sow Your Lettuce Seeds

    Make sure the soil is level and smooth between the tomato plant and the tub's rim. Next, sprinkle seeds on the soil. They should be 1/2 inch apart in a ring, about 4 inches out from the tomato plant. Just about any lettuce variety will sprout quickly from seeds sown in a container. We chose a cutting mix of loose-leaf types. Just when the weather turns too hot for these cool-loving salad greens, the heat-seeking tomato plant will appreciate the extra elbowroom. Cover the seeds with about 1/4 inch of potting mix. Press it down gently.

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Water Well

    Water your tub garden until the soil is evenly moist. A gentle shower is best -- use a spray nozzle on your garden hose or a watering can.

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Get Growing!

    Set the tub outdoors in a place that gets lots of sunshine (at least six hours each day). Check the moisture of your tub garden every day. Poke the soil with a finger -- if it feels dry, it's time to water again. Remember, plants need long, deep drinks instead of quick, shallow sprinkles. Count the days until harvest -- about 45 days for lettuce and 75 days for tomatoes.

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