For those with only a balcony or patio to use for a vegetable garden, tomatoes make a practical as well as attractive choice. Collections of bright red fruit on bushy vines in big, colorful containers provide instant sweet snacks as well as salad toppers. Grow them in pots or whiskey barrels; all that's needed for success is sunshine, light potting soil, some garden fertilizer and the right variety of tomato.
The Patio Garden
The University of Illinois Extension suggests choosing determinate varieties of tomatoes for the patio garden. They grow to a certain size, tend to be more compact and need less pruning to keep them small. Indeterminate tomatoes grow more like vines but they also produce throughout the season so you should plant a mix of early and late determinate types. Rutgers University New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) recommends Patio, Pixie, Small Fry, Sweet 100 Patio, Tiny Tim, Tumbling Tom, Saladette, Toy Boy, Stokesalaska, Gem State and Patio Prize, many of which were bred for growing in 3- to 5-gallon containers. In addition, Tomato Growers Supply Company, an agricultural supplier, sells early varieties like Bush, Better Bush, Bush Early Girl and New Big Dwarf. Midseason varieties include Bush Champion and Margo. Small varieties include Baxter's Early Bush Cherry, Cherry Grande VF Hybrid and Elfin. Lime Green Salad is a small green heirloom tomato. Sprite is a grape tomato and Sweet Pea Currant is covered with tiny fruit.
Not every container has to be big enough to hold gallons of dirt. If all you have is a window sill with eight or more hours of sunshine, you can still have tomatoes. NJAES researchers suggest Florida Basket and Floragold Basket varieties that produce 1-inch red or yellow fruit. Tomato Growers Supply Company sells very dwarf determinate varieties that grow less than a foot tall, including Micro Tom, Red Robin, Totem and Window Box Roma. Yellow Canary is a miniature yellow heirloom variety. Tumbling Tom Thumb grows 18 inches tall in hanging pots. Tiny Tim and the heirloom Orange Pixie are small varieties that grow to 18 inches.
For those who want lots of tomatoes for sauce, stewed tomatoes or tomato preserves, paste tomatoes that are generally plum or pear-shaped grow well in containers. Multiple plants will need a large tub but most will produce well in a 5-gallon tub. Tomato Growers Supply Company proposes Bellstar, Roma, La Roma II, Martino' Roma, Rio Grande, Viva Italia and Principe Borghese, a tomato favored for sun-drying. Midseason and small-fruited dwarf plants Mountain Belle VF and Husky Cherry Red are heavy producers. Larger plants--with larger fruits--should be planted in whiskey barrel-sized planters, available at garden centers. They include Jetstar, Celebrity, Early Girl and Better Boy VFN. Tomato Growers Supply Company adds dwarf Husky Red to the list.