Better Tomatoes with Walls-O-Water


CODY WITT OF THE REAL DEAL COMPOST blog gets between 50 and 100 pounds of tomatoes per plant in his garden in Colorado. What’s his secret? Plenty of top grade compost and Walls-O-Water*.

Cody represents WeCycle  Consulting, a firm that aims to save businesses money through composting. As you might expect for someone in his role, he’s got a lot of top notch compost available to him. There’s no doubt that compost is a huge factor in growing great tomatoes, but it was the use of Walls-O-Water that got my attention.

For those of you who are not familiar with Walls-O-Water, it’s one of many brands of “water teepees” that are used as mini greenhouses with warm weather vegetable plants like tomato, pepper, cucumber, melon and eggplant. The primary reason why people use them is to transplant vegetable plants outside earlier for a longer growing season.

Extending the season

I’ve used a number of methods for extending the season for tomatoes, including low tunnels and cold frames. I know that if you can start your tomato plants in the ground sooner, you’ll get better yields because the plants grow larger both above the ground and below. Last year I planted my Brandywine and Caspian Pink tomatoes early using a portable cold frame. It was amazing how much better the Brandywine did than in years past. The tomatoes were larger and they ripened a little earlier in the summer. Plus the plant stayed healthy and giving well into the fall.

This year I plan to start my tomatoes in Walls-O-Water inside a low tunnel. Depending on the weather, I probably won’t need to keep the low tunnel cover on very much. The temperature at night frequently drops down into the 50s and 40s Fahrenheit in early May in southern New Hampshire. But it can be much worse. Sometimes it is cold and rainy in May, June and even July for weeks at a time, so I’m not taking any chances. I’ll “put the top up” if we get a string of bad weather.

Using this double layer, I’ll have to be very careful I don’t fry the tomato plants. It would be easy to do if we get a relatively warm day and I still have the plastic on the tunnel. I’ll prevent this from happening by leaving the top off except for during the night – unless it’s really cold or overly rainy.

Tomatoes only a few days sooner

Strangely enough, the consensus is that you don’t get tomatoes much sooner using this method. This is probably because the tomatoes can’t set fruit until the night temperatures warm up above 60 degrees F. But Walls-O-Water do protect against frost, which in my part of the country is a very real possibility in early May. It also allows you to grow much bigger plants.

Here’s a Wall-O-Water advertising video showing you how they work.

Here are a couple of other alternatives to Wall-O-Water that are available from Amazon:

Kozy Coat Wall-of-Water Gardening Teepees*

Dalen Gardener Season Starter Plant Insulator*

The most difficult part

Maybe the most difficult part of using a Wall-O-Water is getting it off without damaging the plant. Cody leaves his WOWs on throughout the growing season. If you live in a warmer climate, you can’t leave them on because the plants will fry.

Getting them off gets even more complicated when you take into account the tomato cages. You have to be careful that the cages don’t puncture the plastic cells. The other thing to consider is the tomato plant stems are pretty weak after the Wall-O-Water is taken off, so cages are even more necessary than normal.

How do you get a jump on the season with your tomatoes? Let us know by commenting below.

* If you purchase using this link, I make a small amount of money that helps me continue to publish Suburban Hobby Farmer.

Related articles you might enjoy:

1. A Side-by-Side Comparison of Hoop House Kits
2. Book Review: Eliot Coleman’s Four-Season Harvest
3. Book Review: Eliot Coleman’s Handbook

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22 Responses to “Better Tomatoes with Walls-O-Water”

  1. April 27, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    What a great product! Will be growing tom’s this year, hopefully better than last year…lol! Love your blog…cheers!

    • April 27, 2011 at 11:28 am #

      Julia — Good luck with your tomatoes. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. April 27, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    Hi Bill, I tried these for the first time last year- just on one plant and really noticed a difference! Do you know if there is any difference between the clear ones and green ones? Headed out to buy my wall-o-water’s today!

  3. April 27, 2011 at 5:08 pm #

    I really love these. I use them early in the spring when I want to put my tomatoes in the garden. They work well to keep my maters warm.

    • April 27, 2011 at 6:33 pm #

      I put my first couple out today. I’m thinking that I’ll put two more out this week. Thanks for letting us know how you use them.

  4. April 27, 2011 at 8:29 pm #

    Bill I may wait to see what you think as you use them. I have my trusty row cover that has worked well for me on the raised bed…I have lots of goodies planted under one now and the weather has been rotten until a few days ago, but everything is growing…I hope to start my tomatoes a tad earlier under cover this year…perhaps I could use these with container plants to get them out earlier too…hmmm…will let you know

  5. April 28, 2011 at 8:44 am #

    Here in the northeast where cool, wet weather can extend well into the summer, and for those of us with heavy soils, I haven’t found the WOWs to provide any advantage. I did side by side trials a couple years in a row so am pretty confident of the results.

    However, those with well drained soils in the same climate do see benefits. So my theory is that if you have sandy soils that warm up fast in spring then protecting the leaves with WOW is useful. But if the roots are cold and wet, there’s no benefit.

    They are also a real pain to erect. You need a nice warm day and hopefully another set of hands because you’ll get wet filling up those tubes.

    I’ve had much better luck growing my tomatoes in a hoop house with extra layers of protection for cold nights. Also being sure not to plant too early, inviting those hard frosts in May!

    • April 28, 2011 at 9:26 am #

      Thanks for providing some great input. From your comment, I believe the bottom line is that if the roots are cold and wet, it doesn’t really matter if the leaves are warm. Raised beds may help as the soil temperature warms up and drains more quickly. My soil is very dry in raised beds, which is not so good for potatoes.

      I agree that it is much easier to have two people to put them up. I use a bucket and pull the bucket out after the Walls-O-Water are filled. That makes it much easier.

      It’s a really great option if you have a high tunnel hoop house to grow your tomatoes in. Have you considered Walls-O-Water inside a hoop house? Maybe this is overkill and row covers inside the hoop house would be more than enough.

  6. April 28, 2011 at 9:32 pm #

    Hey there! Thanks for the great post!! Just wanted to let you know I am direct linking you to my site! Ill be posting about suburban hobby farmer soon…thanks so much for putting me up!

  7. David
    October 11, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

    Great job on growing the tomatoes!

    Wouldn’t it be better to recycle old plastic water bottles and make something similar to use ourselves rather that buy some new plastic thing??

    Guess that would be upcycle instead of wecycle?

    Here’s just one example:

    http://www.reapscotland.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Plastic_Bottle_Greenhouse_Instructions_2004.pdf

    • October 11, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

      What a great idea! Thanks for sharing it.

    • AG
      February 26, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

      So here’s my question, can you fill those plastic bottle walls with water so it becomes a giant wall of waters/self heating greenhouse? I can’t see from the pictures if there would be leakage, but maybe using a sealant around each edge as you nest them? As I’ve been reading about WoWs, I’ve been wondering how to construct a greenhouse just that way, with water in the walls to generate heat. I would love a self heating greenhouse!

      • February 27, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

        I’ve seen pictures of full size greenhouses made of plastic bottles. Most do not fill the bottles with water because the bottles would freeze and split if you lived in an area that has temperatures below freezing consistently. This also would not be self heating, but would keep the air at a higher temperature at night and lower temperature during the day. It would do a good job moderating the temperature. Bottles filled with water in place of walls o water would be a good idea because you could put them in place when after the really cold temperatures were past.

        • AG
          February 27, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

          I hadn’t thought about the freezing. It stays below freezing in the winter quite often here. If you put the lid on each bottle stop and only partially filled each with water before gluing they’d have room to expand. I have no idea what would happen to the water trapped in there. I’m definitely not mechanically minded. There has to be a way to do that though. Temperature regulation is what is so difficult in a greenhouse. Too hot on the sunny days and too cold at night. I”m thinking out loud. As for using the bottles instead of WoW, the problem initially would be there there is no teepee effect in the early days to protect the plant from really cold temps. So I would still have to buy the WoWs. It wouldn’t save me from that. This is my first year doing them and I’m going to experiment. I’m actually going to try a roll of otterpops around one (bc that is what they look like to me!). And they are so colorful and pretty.

          • February 28, 2013 at 8:48 am #

            April Grow — I haven’t tried it, but I think putting water in plastic bottles — even if you leave space for the ice to expand — would cause the bottles to eventually split after repeated freezing. It wouldn’t be a lasting solution. (This is just me thinking out loud.) I’ve seen versions of Walls O Water where they are angled and have the teepee effect. The thing is, Walls O Water are pretty inexpensive and making them from bottles would be a lot of work. It’s probably a better idea to just pay a little money so you don’t have to re-invent the wheel. You can use them year after year.

  8. AG
    February 28, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    Those plastic bottles are poor quality and wouldn’t stand up to it, you are right. Especially not worth it after all the work it requires.The only trouble with the Walls o water is I need A LOT. And it adds up. Last year I got hardly any tomatoes before the frost killed them. I didn’t get to can nearly what I wanted to. We moved from zone 7b to zone 6b, but the frosts are much closer together here than they were there. I’m going to try some WoWs and some EZ Walls plant protectors. They are supposed to be easier to fill and close. Anyway, I’ve got my plants going in the basement and looking forward to some 4th of july tomatoes (instead of 4th of september like the last two years since we moved here.

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