City Picker: Grow Tomatoes on your Porch, Patio or Deck

City Picker

A few years back, a friend raved about an Earth Box, a self-contained planting system for vegetables.  I’m not sure if they were hard to come by at the time, but I never stumbled across one in any of the garden centers I frequent, or I simply didn’t take the time to look.

Our raised beads spread out across the back of our house in past years, but they were too close together making it challenging to get around them without getting your foot caught between them.  When we refurbished our back yard this winter, we widened the path in front of the beds, to make room for our summer pumpkin vines.  We added gravel, since part of that area isn’t easily plant-able due to pipes, irrigation shut off valves, the electric box, etc.  It was a great place for a chair in the cooler months, with the sun reflecting heat off the side of the house.  Hoping to capture that trapped heat for our tomatoes this summer, I went looking for an Earth Box.  What I found instead was a City Picker, virtually identical in every way, but almost double in width.

City Picker’s are perfect for urban gardeners, since they are a fully contained system in a portable box.  The planting box comes with casters, a ventilation tray, a watering tube and plastic mulch.  You can roll it around your patio or deck to maximize sun, while at the same time containing the mess.  No need to worry about watering your downstairs neighbor!

Here is our setup:

1.5 CU FT. Organic Potting Mix

Dolomite Lime and Fertilizer

Fully assembled City Picker

Fill with potting mix to about two inches below the top
Add a thin layer of Dolomite

Organic Fertilizer:
Make a two-inch trough in the center of the box
Add three cups of organic fertilizer

Mound Potting Mix:
Cover fertilizer with mix, about one inch above the box

Plastic Mulch:
Cover with the elasticized plastic mulch
Clip in place with the enclosed binder clips

Cut Holes in Plastic Mulch:
Cut a hole for the irrigation pipe
Cut additional holes and plant seeds/seedlings

Ready to Grow

I’ve provided links for the Earth Box and the City Picker for feature comparisons.  Please let me know if you’ve tried one in the past, or if you plan to set one up this season.

94 thoughts on “City Picker: Grow Tomatoes on your Porch, Patio or Deck

  1. Pingback: Potting box | Miranda1929

  2. Wow, what a great idea! Thank you for the excellent detailed instructions with accompanying step-by-step photos. It almost makes me think it might actually be possible for me to grow something!

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    • Try tomatoes. They are delicious when you grow your own. The biggest nemesis is tobacco horn worm aka tomato worm, something you can probably avoid with these planting boxes. One of my passions over the summers is pulling a warm, fresh tomato off the vine and eating it on the spot (we grow organic). Yum!

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      • Yes!! There’s nothing like a homegrown tomato eaten immediately after picking! I literally crave them. So far, I’ve yet to plant my own, and have relied on the generosity of my parents’ flourishing crop.

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        • How nice to have a direct source! Our friend Laura’s dad supplied us with some amazing heirloom tomatoes last summer. Once you’ve had tomatoes from a garden, you realize how far we’ve strayed from fresh food in the interest of appearance. Supermarket tomatoes look pretty, but are usually flavorless.

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  3. Too early yet for tomatoes, my mom brought us loquats, kumquats, and avocados from their yard when she cat-sat for us last weekend. Yum!

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  4. My folks do have a large yard, and just planted their vegetable garden for this season. Everything seems to grow well there. They live relatively close, say, compared to where you live, but at approximately 40 miles, it’s far enough that I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like. When oh when will teleportation ever become a reality???

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  8. Hi,

    We will be planting a fall garden (lettuce, kale, chard and some herbs) from seed using the City Pickers. We are wondering if you have any advice. Did the mulch cover cause any problems with seed germination? Should we leave it off until the seeds sprout – then cut and add. Or does it work just fine from the start.

    Any assistance you can provide would be appreciated!

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    • The City Picker worked well from the start. If you follow the instructions to the letter, you should be successful. I planted seeds on one side, three starter tomatoes on the other. I cut slashes on both side of the plantings (of course I had to do that for the small plants, but I did it for the seeds too. What’s been great is the ability to move it. When my pumpkins started to take over, I simply wheeled it to a new spot. Good luck and have fun!

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  9. Pingback: You Say ‘Tomato,’ I Say ‘They’re Planted!’ | gardeningnirvana

  10. I like the idea of wheeling around the garden to optimize space or sun that’s really a nice feature. It’s also nice that there’s a plastic cover, keeps the critters out. I’m just taking a little break, all packed, house cleaned…will just quickly edit fridge and Bob’s your uncle. Wew, 14 days of no chores! Only sunshine, hugs and laughter in the forecast xoxo K BTW, at this very moment in Edmonton, it’s doing this: Giant wet snow flakes..more like raining slush. HA

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  11. Hi! I bought a few City Pickers boxes during winter when they were on sale and am excited to plant tomatoes in 2 of them this weekend. I was wondering how many tomato plants you put in 1 box? I put 9 herbs in my other box and that has worked well, but I’m worried that tomatoes can grow so much! Would you suggest 2? 4? Thank you so much🙂

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    • Hi Wendy,

      Thanks for stopping by. Best of luck with your tomatoes. So glad you bought your City Picker son sale.

      Last year I planted (thinned) to 4 -6 plants per pot, 3 on each side. It worked out well. Be sure to stake early. I didn’t…and regretted it. It seemed the were five inches, then 24 inches in a matter of a week.

      Check back in and let me know how you do.

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      • Hi, this is Wendy checking in again! I planted 3 stupice tomatoes per box last year with good results. This year, I went for 4 cherry and grape varieties per box and it has exploded! Such a great harvest and delicious as well. Thanks for the tip last year =)

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  13. Where’s the overflow hole in the patio picker. Did you have to wait for the seeds to sprout before cutting on the mulch cover to determine the spot to cut? Thanks.

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    • I actually cut holes first, then planted the seeds. They need the light to do well. The overflow holes are both sides of the shorter ends. It looks like a narrow, half circle, located at the bottom of the City Picker under the drainage grid.

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    • Well that is a bummer, but I sure know how that goes. Our squirrels don’t seem interested in the tomatoes, per se, but they love the sunflowers, the young pumpkin shoots and the pumpkins themselves once ripe.

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  14. Hi! I bought 2 city pickers last week. I have a question though. I put my tomato starter plants in and 1 zucchini starter plant. After day 3, my plants looked limp and in need of water. I have kept the water reservoir full. Did u water from the top for the first few days or no? The directions never said to do so but I panicked and had to give some water from top. They perked up in a few hours. Am I doing something wrong here? Any advice? I followed all directions and packed corners well..

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    • Hi Katiya,

      I did water from the top for a few days. My guess is that I didn’t moisten the soil enough for starters. The point of the reservoir is to get the roots to reach down, so like you, I was afraid it would backfire. Water sparingly from the top and make sure your reservoir remains full. Did you mulch as well?

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      • I followed the exact directions on the packaging….added the lime and fertilizer. I went all organic. I also put the plastic cover on. I guess time will tell. They are ok so far. I have watered sparingly on the top….just a sip for them haha. Maybe I didn’t moisten my soil enough as well and I am in AZ so it’s been 90* the last couple days UGH.

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        • You live in a hot, dry climate, so you may need to modify accordingly. The benefit of these planters is that you add all the ingredients at once, then find a way to water at the roots. I think I watered at the surface for awhile since the roots are initially shallow. The good news is that once your sort it out for this season, you’ll know what works best for you in years to come.

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  15. I live in the CA desert. Today’s temp in the 90’s. I have two city pickers with tomatos. I am always concerned that there is sufficient water. There are times when I will notice a pool of water under the boxes (I have them on tables) I check the overflow holes but it doesn’t seem like that is where the water is coming from.
    Also, do you think it is advisable to use black plastic mulch covers when temps get really high?
    Thanks

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    • Hi Larry, Tomatoes like it hot, so many growers encourage mulch to keep the soil moist and conversely, to keep the moisture from evaporating. Your box may have a leak. One way to determine that is to place four small containers under the box, then check often to see if one of them is filling up. If you over water, it could flow from the top. Interesting. Let me know if you try this and see what happens.

      Finally, let the plant do the talking. If the plant droops after you change something, i.e. remove the mulch, change the watering schedule, etc. then modify. I’ve also seen red mulch covers used for tomato growing, though I’ve not tried it myself. Best of luck.

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    • Larry: I’m in Oklahoma and only use the black plastic until June 1st. Then I remove it and use plain white plastic. I actually use the white plastic the HD and Lowe’s give you free to protect your car from soil and water.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Hello. Thank you so much for sharing the detailed pictures. I’m new to gardening and am feeling encouraged already🙂. The Texas heat is quite unforgiving and has kept me from gardening all these years. I plan to change that this year🙂. Can you please go over the stakes need for tomatoes? If I plant the ones they sell at the Home Depot, which are already a few inches tall, should I put in the stakes at the same time?
    Also, what do I need to do to reuse the containers for next year?

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    • Hi again,

      You’ll want to stake at the very beginning. You will be amazed at how fast they grow and then it is a pain to try to stake them afterwards. You also may break the vines.

      Since the City Picker isn’t as deep as the earth, you’ll need to put the stakes toward the outer edges of the box, then lean them toward the center for stability.

      I’m so glad you are giving this a go again. Best of luck and please keep me posted.

      Like

    • PS at the end of the season, when it’s all died back, you can simple dump the contents of the box and let the boxes air out for next year. Then next year you’ll restart the process for optimum success.

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      • Actually you don’t need to dump the contents of the box at the end of the season. The City Pickers instructions say you can use the same soil for 4-6 seasons before replacing it. You will need to add new dolomite and fertilizer before replanting.

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        • Thanks, Emmel. I found that the roots were so entangled in the box that I couldn’t easily plant again without starting fresh. I wanted to put the boxes away for the seaons, so perhaps if I left the soil as is, it would have decomposed the roots enough for the following season.

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          • I grew 2 tomato plants per box last year and they exploded with fruit. Then I got lazy at the end of the season and didn’t clean out the boxes with tomatoes, just let them die off and dry up.

            Sometime in March I pulled out what remained of the dry plant stems and some big roots came out as well. Used a hand sized garden hoe to aerate the soil at that time and pick out any other big root chunks, then left it with the mulch cover on until this past weekend.

            I aerated the soil again, moistened it heavily, then added the layer of dolomite and fertilizer strip as directed. Looks pretty good and the soil composted what was left of the roots from last year, so it helped add nutrients a bit🙂 Alternatively, you could dump out the dirt into a compost pile to give it a new life. Better than wasting!

            Liked by 1 person

          • I cut a piece of landscape fabric to fit the inside before I filled with mix. This not only stops the roots from becoming entangled in the aeration “floor”, but because it keeps the roots from actually growing down into the water, it also helps keeps the flavors of your crops better. If the roots sit in water, the fruits/veggies will acquire a weak, hydroponic flavor… really a lack of flavor.

            Like

      • It’s expensive to dump it all!
        Potting soil is used for 5 years in them – at the beginning of each season replenish with the specified amount of dolomite and organic fertilizer

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  17. Hi there, again. What kind of stakes did you use for tomatoes? I see that City Pickers has something called a CropProp. Does it matter which kind I use?

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    • Hi Samia,

      Any stakes will do, but keep in mind that you won’t be able to stake them the way you would in the ground. You might want to create a four point system, then lean them all toward the center. Does that make sense?

      Like

  18. Hello. I went ahead and got 2 city pickers and am done with planting in one. Did all peppers, 6 different types. Will do 3 tomato plants in the other one tomorrow. I noticed a couple of things. First 1.5 cubic feet of potting mix was not enough for me to bring the soil level above the box surface. After the garden lime, fertilizer and all the potting mix, the level was still about half an inch below the surface. Second, I planted Bonnie plants and they were quite big. I had to stick my fingers in the holes through the mulch cover and just kept digging and digging to make room for the plants. I’m now concerned that they arent deep enough and the roots might actually be above the soil surface. Don’t really know what I should do at this time.

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  19. As you discovered, it’s best to start with smaller plants. I buy the ones in the 3″ or 4″ pots that are around 4″ to 8″ tall, which are easy to transplant.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Gave my City Picker tomatos (Carolina Gold) a huge jump start by using those inexpensive large Christmas ornament totes from Lowes or HD to make a City Pickers greenhouse. Just turned one upside down and found that the edges match very nicely, with just enough venting. Carefully drilled 1/2″ holes at the top to let the tomato stakes poke out. I would post pictures if wanted.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Did not see a way to post photo directly to the blog site. I have attached as jpeg.

        I used an inexpensive 30 gallon Bella clear container. 29″L x 19 1/2″ W x 17″ height. Flipped upside down and it matches well.

        Drilled 2 holes for tomato stakes and used those “binder clips” we all have laying around to snap the edges of lid to the planter.

        Took at least 5 minutes to do ).

        Like

  21. I am from the Boston area and I just purchased my first city picker container at home depot. After I got home and opened the container I realized the instructions said you need dolomite and fertilizer. I only have purchased the potting mix with the container. Have you or anyone planted without dolomite? After planting my tomato, and cilantro plant I went out and got Dr Earth Home Grown Tomato Vegetable Herb Fertilizer. Is it too late to mix it in? I am a newbie to gardening and have no idea where to start. I just hope these plants survive! I also cannot find dolomite at any of my home depot or lowe’s. They carry garden for hydrangea so I am not sure if that is safe for vegatable gardening.

    Like

    • Congratulations on starting a garden! You’re going to have fun and please don’t worry. I often wonder why Home Depot doesn’t display the additional items needed to get your Earth Box going. It’s a lost opportunity for them.

      Dolomite is another name for lime stone. It provides nutrients and raises the soil’s PH to make it more conducive to gardening. That said, I’ve planted vegetables for years using rich potting soil or potting mix without any problems. The reason they have you mix things into the soil at the start is both to help establish the plant and to make the process easier. It means you don’t have to do anything else all season with the exception of watering and staking the plants. I would suggest just leaving your plants as is so that you don’t disturb the roots, or, following the directions on Dr. Earth, mix in some to the top soil without disturbing the roots. Best of luck, and please check in and let me know how it goes. Alys

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      • Thanks! Now do I have to water everyday, I am so afraid to over water. The soil seems moist underneath but some of the top layers looks dry. It’s been in the high 80’s in Boston so I pour more water into the spout until water spilled out of the container. But I am not sure if I should water the top too? I did not get the same Dr. Earth fertilizer you posted. The one I have said it’s for tomato, vegetable, and herb fertilizer and I also did not do the trench like the way the patio city picker said. I sprinkled it into the potting mix around the tomato, cilantro, and chili pepper plant and I used (miracle gro potting mix). Hope I did not make any mistakes here at this point…

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        • As long as you followed package directions for fertilizer application, I’m sure you’ll be fine.

          It’s ok to let your vegetables dry out in between watering. If anything, it will encourage them to shoot roots down toward the water trough which is what you want. If the plants are falling over wilting, then you’ll need to water from the top. Otherwise, you want to encourage them to grow down.

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    • I didn’t use the Dolomite at all. Used miracle grow soil with slow release fertilizer. Worked fine for two months then gave it s shot of miracle grow liquid

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  22. Thanks for your article. I set up my City Picker a few months ago and it is doing very well. However, I need to move it a couple hundred feet and am wondering the best way to do this. Any ideas?

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    • Hmmm. I would suggest lifting it into a wagon or wheelbarrow if you can to minimize the disruption (with help of course) and move it during the cool part of the day.

      Congratulations on our garden success. Isn’t it fun?

      Like

  23. Just purchased three of the city pickers. My question is can you plant veg. plants already 3-4 inches in height or must they be started from seeds?

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  24. This is an older thread…but hoping someone still reads it! I just got these. I’m in Kansas and wanted to plant peas and carrots from seed in them. Do you think the plastic cover is necessary? It seems like I’d be making so many little holes for all those plants since you plant those seeds like 1-2″ apart…or do you recommend only planting plants in them? Thank you!

    Like

    • Hi Brooke!

      If you follow the guidelines for planting, it really works. The plastic cover is intergral because it keeps the soil evenly moist, raises the temperature of the soil and prevents erosion. I found that I needed to water from the top for awhile, but the goal is to encourage deep roots. Once you’ve added the lime and fertilizer and planted your seeds, the cover keeps it all together. You might want to space your carrots farther apart this season and see how they do so you don’t need as many holes, then adjust accordingly next season. Best of luck, and please report back. Alys

      Liked by 1 person

      • thank you! we moved recently to a new house with no garden yet. I was hoping to get everything in the actual ground but we haven’t gotten beds built yet so I know I’m a bit late and got these as a gift to try until we get the beds in. I will follow the instructions! Thank you! you are so nice to reply to everyone!

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    • If you are starting seeds this late, might want to use white plastic instead of black. Carrot seed germination is best at 50-80 F , so black plastic might over cook them if you wait too long in season to start. All big box garden centers have the free white plastic to protect you car from dirty plant flats. That stuff works great in a city picker box.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Great suggestion, Bill!

        I just replaced the ratty original black plastic cover after 3 seasons and simply used a white kitchen garbage bag that I cut open and tucked into the dirt at the side of the boxes. With the white plastic, I can really see the humidity that the plastic causes!

        Liked by 2 people

      • yes I’m a bit late! we moved recently and haven’t gotten beds built yet…I have a toddler and the only vegetable he will eat willingly is peas so I really want to get pea plants growing with him! I will try white instead!

        Liked by 1 person

  25. I am moving a little grown up plant from miracle grow hydroponic system to the planters. Since the tomato plant is grown to about 9 inches now, I am having difficulty using the black plastic sheet. I am keeping the planters systems indoor with LED lights and also near my window that gives sunlight. Is the black sheet really necessary?

    Like

    • Hello Bala,

      The plastic sheet serves as mulch. It’s designed to keep the moisture in and also acts as a weed barrier.Since you’re growing indoors you most likely will have less soil evaporation and certainly no weeds. If you want to use the cover to reduce the amount of watering try this:

      Using old newspaper or a paper bag, make a circle template that mimics the circumference of your plant. Trace that circle onto the black plastic mulch in the area that will cover the tomato plant. Then instead of cutting out the circle, cut from the center toward the circle like spokes in a wheel. Then you can pull this over the plant gently and it will lie in place under the plant. Best of luck and please let me know what you do.

      Like

  26. Hello all,

    I live in minnesota. I tried city picker to grow tomato, cilantro and sunflower. I used organic compost mixer instead of potting mix. My soil is always moist but, hardly 1 or 2 seeds have germinated. I used dolomite and fertilizer as mentioned. It’s been almost 3 weeks and I see hardly 5 to 6 plants … not sure what is wrong with my experiment.. please help me

    Like

    • Hi Kavi. Here are a few things to consider. One, are the seeds still there? I’ve had a similar experience with sunflowers, and it turned out that a squirrel or bird made off with them. If you gently scratch the surface, you’ll be able to see if something is slowly germinating. There are many reasons seeds don’t germinate. Here are a few: They might be planted too deeply, they might be hiding under the plastic mulch and therefore not getting any light or they might simply not be viable. Sometimes older seeds don’t grow. If you rule out all of these things, check to see that soil isn’t too wet. That will rot the seeds or drown the seedlings.

      I wish you the best of like. Please don’t get discouraged. Sleuthing the problem can be part of the challenges of gardening. Please let me know what you discover. Alys

      Like

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