...by using recycled coffee cups to maximize root size.
From Melissa's member blog last May:
Every year I start my tomatoes in February. I don't have a south facing
window--I am totally reliant on shop
to help them grow. But instead of being leggy, my tomatoes
are crazy drought-proof beasts that take over the world. Last year, my
Matt's Cherry tomato grew about 9 feet wide, and the neighbours had to
cut it back just to figure out where the fence was so they could park
their car. That's because the root ball was deep enough to support it.
My secret is using recycled coffee cups to help gradually build up the
Step 1. Get everyone you know (and their office) to collect coffee cups.
Sort them by size, because you will want to start with the small ones.
Poke drainage holes.
Step 2. Remove your leggy tomato seedling from the cellpack (I plant all
my seeds in cell packs recycled from past years, because most
greenhouses won't recycle them), and place at the bottom of a small cup.
See the first leaves at the bottom? Carefully pinch those off.
Step 3. Bury the tomato up to where it branches, stem and all. Around
the root ball, you can use compost to give it a healthy start, but when
you are burying the stem, a soil-less potting mix is best. (I prepare my
potting mix by soaking it first, to make sure it has absorbed plenty of
water.) This is how deep you should plant it.
Roots will grow out of the part of the stem that you burried, to become
part of the ever-growing rootball.
Step 4. When the tomato grows up out of the pot again, remove it from
the small cup, put it in the bottom of a medium sized cup, and bury it
up to the branch again. (In these stages, you can make a doughnut of
compost around the outer edges of the cup, and use potting mix for the
Repeat until you have a root ball as deep as extra large coffee cup. You
can keep moving them up into larger planters, but by XL I run out of
space to keep all my seedlings.
Using coffee cups also makes it easy to give away tomatoes to friends
and neighbours. Share the heirloom love.
When it's finally safe to plant everything outdoors, I'll show you how
to use drought-proof planting to make your tomatoes (and other plants)
survive between rains without the need for watering.