Growing tomatoes in a Tower Garden is not just a “plant & play” experience. There are many pros and cons, as well as different growing techniques to consider.
When starting the seedling process for tomatoes, you are advised to plant 2 seeds per rockwool/coco coir pod. Cut the weaker plant when seedlings are about 5cm tall.
Agrotonomy Tower Farms approach to growing tomatoes
At Agrotonomy Tower Farms, we prefer to start with only 1 seed per rockwool.
Experience shows that when 2 seeds germinate at the same time in the same constrained space, the smaller seedling indicates that it would develop in a weaker plant when fully grown.
Starting with one seed per rockwool is our preference as it allows us better to benchmark which are the healthiest seedlings that need to be planted.
Seeds germinate in 10 to 14 days and seedlings take 5 to 6 weeks to be ready to be planted.
Tomato plants do not do well under 20°C/70°F. If using your Tower Garden in a greenhouse, pollination assistance is recommended.
Over the years, at Agrotonomy Tower Farms, we have grown over 50 different varieties of tomatoes using Tower Garden technology.
We have run numerous comparative tests between growing tomatoes aeroponically versus growing tomatoes in the soil using different techniques of pruning and growing support.
There are many YouTube videos and other sources of advice when growing tomatoes on a Tower Garden. We only advise our readers based on our own experience.
Agrotonomy Tower Farms’ numerous comparative tests
Tomatoes grown on the towers give 50% average crop yield increase (in comparison to growing tomatoes in the soil), and the fruits are noticeably bigger by 20% to 30% in size.
Tomatoes on the towers start fruiting earlier and keep on giving fruits for a longer time. Tomatoes in the towers also require less water than their counterparts grown in the soil.
Tomatoes grown on the towers are usually pest-free (as long as using a grow cage or a trellis, or in other terms, as long as tomatoes are grown off the ground).
On the other hand, pest-free tomatoes grown in the soil is almost an oxymoron!
Tower Garden tomatoes are in our opinion inferior in terms of flavonoid levels (in comparison to tomatoes grown in the soil).
Based on the tons of tomatoes that we have grown aeroponically, tomatoes grown in the soil are tastier than tomatoes grown on the tower mainly during the hot summer months.
When running a comparative test, we give optimum soil quality and organic fertilizers to the tomatoes growing in the soil and a lot of care.
Although tomatoes require full sun exposure, when using Tower Garden technology outdoors above 32°C/90°F, it affects the overall flavor of the tomatoes.
Some indeterminate tomato varieties will grow from April through December (in a Mediterranean climate for example). Fruits will be harvestable from June through November.
Tomatoes picked mid-July taste better than those in August. However, tomatoes harvested from the same plant around late September throughout October are much sweeter.
Tomatoes grown in the soil can deliver flavors way beyond the taste of tomatoes grown outdoors on a Tower Garden.
This is the proof to us that it is not the heat which affects the taste of the tomatoes, but rather, when temperatures go above 32°C/90°F, the water in the reservoir of the tower warms up to unacceptable levels, hence inhibiting the full release of flavonoids.
This would explain their inferior flavor despite their increase crop yield in comparison to their counterparts grown in the soil. We advise against using Tower Garden technology to grow tomatoes using the bottom planting ports and letting the plants crawl on the ground.
Of course, this is probably what most of you were advised to do, however, at Agrotonomy Tower Farms, we are 100% against allowing plants to crawl from the tower onto the ground.
One of the biggest perks of Tower Garden technology versus conventional farming/gardening is the amazing reduction of pesticide usage.
One of the main reasons is that plants are growing off-the-ground thus preventing a zillion potential pathogens of all kinds from crawling up on the tower.
When using an aeroponic tower, we advise the use of a grow cage, or even better, using a trellis or a customized growing structure.
We do realize that in the USA, only the Tower Garden flex comes with a cage (the new Tower Garden for home-use does not come with a support cage option).
A grow structure can be as simple as 4 or 5 stakes planted around the tower connected with twine/cables/scrog nets etc. to support the growth of the plant.
Instead of growing indeterminate varieties that keep on growing throughout the season, we advise growing determinate tomato varieties that either grow upward or in smaller bushes.
Even better than determinate tomato varieties, if you do not have a structure to support the growth of your tomato plants, we recommend that you grow either dwarf tomatoes or patio varieties, which aside from their compactness, do not require pruning.
Our YouTube account shows us growing tomatoes using different pruning strategies.
From our trials and errors, we have learned that for best results using Tower Garden technology, we prefer to grow indeterminate cherry tomato varieties using a strict pruning approach that allows only 2 to 3 main branches to grow.
Aside from giving bigger fruits, such a technique allows us to harvest much tastier tomatoes.
When growing tomatoes by getting rid of the suckers to limit the number of main stems, tomato plants will keep on growing on an ongoing basis.
Branches need to be trained to crawl
The crop yield of such pruning techniques might be lower than when allowing tomatoes to grow in a bush-like effect.
When limiting the number of main branches, aside from a much more flexible leverage to train the vines to grow in specific areas, more tomato plants can be planted on the same tower.
Uncared tomato plants left to grow into a bush are invasive and hinder the planting potential of the tower. The root system of a tomato plant is not strong enough to support all the fruits growing on an uncared tomato plant.
This way we have become big advocates of growing tomatoes on a Tower Garden by limiting the number of main branches/stems (as featured on these two videos).
Although you should grow a maximum of 2 tomato plants per planting section, ideally, for optimum results and in order to allow enough root space (above all if growing indeterminate tomato varieties), we recommend only one plant per planting section.
Mathias Levarek is the President of Agrotonomy Tower Farms