Valley Permaculture Alliance

Two weeks ago I started an experiment to see if tomatoes can be over watered. I used to keep ponds and back then we were all crazy to see what plants would grow in standing water, many will. Tomato was tried by another ponder and I always wanted to see for myself. I read here warnings about over watering and rotting the roots and it reminded me to do this experiment.

I don't think this is anything new. Seems like I remember one of those fad things about 10 years ago "As Seen on TV" planting systems for tomatoes that kept the tomato in standing water for the first month or so.

Cherry tomato six pack, all looked strong and equal. Six 5 gal buckets labeled A thru F. Full sun. I did not break up the roots at all, they were not root bound at all. I did not plant deep or remove the bottom leaves. Planted maybe 1/8" lower than the six pack soil level. The clay soil was out of my backyard, it has never been amended as far as I know.

A & D - Bog, small hole at the soil level, clay soil
B & E - Wet feet, holes 2" below soil level, clay soil
C - Traditional bottom holes, clay soil
F - Traditional bottom holes, store bought "Top Soil"

Very well watered, a few times to make sure each started with saturated soil. Clay soil is great at holding water.

Planted April 1 2010.


April 15, 2010
Bucket F, the traditional "Top Soil" has dropped out. It started dying right away and was basically dead after a couple of days. I had expected it to do the best. The soil had smelled of ammonia and I assume it had not been composted. I went back and read the label and it said to mix 50/50 with soil. The big name on the bag was "Top Soil" so I didn't think there would even be instructions. If this hadn't been an experiment I wouldn't have used this soil at all given the smell and crap in the mix.

All the other plants seem to be doing equally well. A & E (bog and wet feet) are best, C (traditional) close behind and B & D (wet feet and bog) are last. But I'd say these differences are normal, not all plants grow the same. Seem to at least doubled in mass, all have flower buds.

I've been watering most every day, missing one day in between at most, giving them all the water they could take. The bog never appears dry and is always muddy. The wet feet apears dry at the surface but muddy 2" down and the traditional gets a bit dry but soil is damp underneath.

Today I added a bit of 16-16-16 and picked off the aphids, just adults.

Plants that can't live in standing water die pretty fast. The roots die from lack of oxygen and then rot. These tomatoes are growing. If your tomato dies I think over watering shouldn't be on the list of causes.


Tags: tomato

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I look forward to hearing how they are doing in a few weeks
Well, counselor, I do admit said plant died. I further admit there was growing medium, plants and watering involved in said death. That it died from over watering is not my admission, I actually think I stated the opposite.

I do think over watering is a poor idea for all plants and wouldn't limit it to 1/6 of the time. It wastes water, can flush nutrients away and other issues. Growing plants in standing water has none of these issues. Over watering is not possible with plants in standing water.

So far I only know that this type of tomato plant will grow in water for at least 2 weeks in the conditions I stated. This experiment is much too small to prove anything much beyond this specific context. Also temperature, amount of sunlight, wind, microbes types, etc... are factors not included in this experiment.

Extrapolating data into additional theories to test is a great idea. Extrapolating data into fact is not science and used to support myths. For example we could say 1/6 of all tomato plants die in the first 3 days, 1/6 of tomato plants die when planted in white plastic buckets, 1/6 of tomato plants die in Phoenix, etc... Just pick the one that fit the desired outcome. Easy and requires no testing at all.

If you wanted to extrapolate data further to support a preconceived fact then I would not be limited to 1/6. The only plants in this experiment that could be over watered, and that is undetermined, are C & F since they are the only ones with traditional drainage. So you could say 50% of the plants over watered died. If that's what you want to take away then super, glad I could help.
Then, when the tomatoes take off, you start to wonder if you're UNDERWATERING! Something's gotta turn into fruit ...



I watered deeply yesterday in anticipation of the dessicating winds. The ripening fruit is cracking! Nothing else is eating them, and they are delicious as I'm keeping a close eye, but I'd rather they ripen on the vine without the bursting. It just seems like the size of the plant and the amount of fruits would require a good deal of water just to plump the fruit!
I think my experiment is going to be in a Catch-22 with splitting fruit.
I was kind of hoping for that.
Starting 3rd week. All seems normal.


Plant F that died has resurrected. I replanted F into clay soil, all leaves had completely wilted but the stem remained. I was surprised to see leaves starting a few days ago.

Definitely! I wonder if this would also work with beans. I had a few that look just like this, and I was about to give up on them and plant new seeds.
"See, there is a difference between mostly dead, and all dead." I think as long as a plant's roots have the ability to wick, and there is green plant material, the potential to live can survive the odds, no matter how slim. Thriving becomes the next question.
My expectations are pretty low for this plant given the time of year. But we'll see. This one had been moved when transplanted to morning sun only. My guess is this growth is from new roots spouted from the stem, more like a cutting, because of the leaves being so close to the soil line. The roots when transplanted were grayish and very limp.

This is the first year I've grown tomatoes in Phoenix and don't know what to expect. This environment is so different to me from any where else I've lived, New York, Alaska, Texas, Florida, Bay Area. One of the other tomatoes plants has already set fruit, 3 weeks out of a six pack. I feel like I'm on another planet.
IF I were to Try nursing my tomatoes through the heat for fall would I trim them back When the present fruit is done?
LOL! I never thought I'd see the Princess Bride quoted here! But you're absolutely right about life in the roots, especially with tomatoes. They're the most persistent of all the plants I've grown. I almost always get a volunteer or two out of my compost (this year I had hundreds because I chose to compost in place in one of my beds). I've stuck stems in glass jars with water and re-rooted them. They overwinter and over summer with grace. And they smell like tomatoes when you touch them. What else can a person want from a plant?

Denise

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