Let’s take a second to consider how you should water your tomatoes for high yields.
The tomato fruit is over 95% water There’s little room for error here. A lack of water will create Blossom End Rot (see disease section) and all your efforts are wasted.
A Simple Home Drip-Watering System
- Take a large soda pop bottle – cut off the bottom end about a half-inch from the bottom.
- Take the screw-cap top off and with a hot needle, poke a hole in the top. Note that a drill is usually too large.
- Put the top back on the bottomless bottle – and dig a hole about 8-inches deep right beside your tomato plant.
- Set the bottle into the hole – pierced cap end down. Backfill it and fill the bottle with water through the cut-off bottom end.
- The pierced cap will slowly leak the water into the soil and will provide a few hours of regular deep watering. If they leak out (emptying the bottle) within an hour, the hole is too large. You want a steady and very tiny trickle of water.
- The trick is to make one of these bottle waterers for each tomato in your home patch and fill them up once a day. This will keep the ground uniformly moist (but not soggy) and will allow the tomato plant adequate moisture.
There are quite a few drip irrigation systems on the market, and here are a few things you really want to think about.
If you have a well
- Get a filter at the beginning of your system if you live in the country. You’ll be surprised how much “small sediment” can quickly clog up a drip system.
- That’s assuming you’re using a by-pass so you don’t filter garden water. If you’re taking it after the filter, you’ll find your filters will clog much faster.
Distance Apart for Tubes
Drip irrigation usually only covers about a foot or so on either side of the hose. This means if you have a 4-foot wide bed, you’ll need two runs (down and back) to properly irrigate. A single run will not provide enough water. See the picture below.
Note this isn’t rocket science on the home scale. In the picture, I had “too much hose and not enough garden” 🙂 so I wound the hose around the plants a bit closer than I had to. On commercial scale, this isn’t done and the hose is custom fit to the fields.
It’s far better to have the hoses closer than too far apart – so if you have to err, do it on the side of close.
Drip irrigation systems are also quite useful in creating an excellent soil moisture level without losing much water to evaporation. The only problem with them is they do tend to clog up and you’ll have to check them out daily or your plants will quickly suffer.
Other Watering Systems
If you use overhead irrigation nozzles, water in the early morning so the sunshine has a chance to dry out the leaves. Watering in the evening will bring on fungal problems as the leaves will stay wet all night. (remember that damp and dark create homes for fungus to grow)
And definitely use a form of rain gauge to figure out how long to run the irrigation system. A rain gauge will work quite nicely to tell you how many inches of water you can apply with your irrigation system in an hour. Tomatoes do nicely with approximately 1 ½ inches of water per week.
If your hose puts out 1 inch of water in an hour – you need to put 1 ½ hours of water onto your plants. Split this amount into two ¾ hour segments equally spaced over the week (say on a Tuesday and Friday – or Saturday and Wednesday)
Rather than purchasing an expensive rain gauge, I use an old yogurt tub and mark (using a permanent magic marker) every half-inch up the container for a few inches. When I start the sprinkler, I time how long it takes to put a half-inch of water into the container. And that’s my base time. Double that time for an inch of water etc.
A drip irrigation system flow rate can be calculated by knowing the flow rate of each emitter and then counting the emitters. Or, by immersing the entire system into a 5-gallon bucket and timing how long it takes to fill up the bucket.
Don’t Water By Hand Unless You’re Feeding
A last resort but a relaxing one is to hand-water your plants. I say last resort because hand watering is usually not as consistent as a sprinkler or drip system. You tend to water more at the beginning and less as you get closer to finishing. You tend to overwater some plants and underwater others.
Having run a nursery with many different workers doing the watering, I can tell you that these variations do make a difference when spread out over a growing season. I use sprinklers in my gardens (I’m also a lazy gardener who wants super yields too).
However you do it – do not let your tomato plants wilt or suffer from moisture stress if you want a good crop.
Click here to read other organic vegetable gardening tips.