How to grow hanging tomatoes

Plants in containers are ideal for schools without gardens, and are a good choice for science experiments as the conditions are much more controllable. For the Growing Schools garden at the Hampton Court Flower Show earlier this month, Brockhill Park grew cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets. Here's how you can do it.

* Choose your basket. Wire baskets look nice, but plastic baskets dry out less quickly. Ideally, use a 35cm or 40cm diameter basket as they hold moisture better, having a smaller surface-to-volume ratio than smaller baskets. But if the children are to have a basket each and take them home, 30cm is more practical. Lots of opportunities here for geometric calculations.

* Liners can be made of anything solid enough to hold the compost in place, but porous enough to let out excess moisture. The traditional sphagnum moss is now frowned on as collecting it can damage fragile natural habitats. Brockhill Park used liners made of waste wool, with a perforated plastic inner liner to aid water retention, but pupils could experiment with anything from old jerseys to conifer clippings.

* Use any good quality multipurpose compost. Adding slow release fertiliser reduces the need to feed, although plants will do better with additional liquid tomato feed once fruiting starts. Adding up all these costs against the eventual crop makes another interesting study.

* 'Tumbler' is the ideal basket variety, and will trail down over the sides. For a contrast grow 'Yellow Tumbling Tom'. Start the seed off individually in small pots or divided trays, ideally, in mid-March in a heated propagator or on a sunny windowsill. Move plants to bigger pots once they have filled the starter pots, then into baskets - one plant in a small basket, three in the larger ones.

* Like many vegetables, tomatoes will hit their peak in the summer holidays. That's the beauty of using containers - children can take them home and pick their own. Before the end of term, pupils will be able to record first flowering dates, and you could grow some baskets in sun and others in shade to see what difference this makes. They should also get the first ripe fruit, then take the baskets home to enjoy the rest. They could keep notes of the yields, feeding and watering to give material for further study in September.

Rosemary Ward is a writer for 'Gardening Which?'

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you