By this writing we had been going to Florida for six years for 3 - 4 months during the winter (usually January - April). I kept pondering how I could get earlier tomatoes in NY given that I am mostly in southern Florida for those months. What else could I grow?
My first attempt was growing lettuce because we do a lot of salads. With a thirty to sixty day maturity I thought this would be doable. I used a foil pan that was 3" deep and about 10 x 12 and packed a fair amount of plants in there....every 3 inches. My intention was to cut the leaves for salads as needed. The results in a nutshell? Aphids loved my lettuce so I had to play with them. Ants got into the soil making transporting it (in the end) impossible; never put your plants on the ground...use the picnic table. I did get some lettuce but really the size of the pan was not right...too small for our use and too shallow. Bring diy insecticidal soap...basically some dr. bronners soap 1 Tablespoon in a quart spray bottle. Lessons learned: If I do this again, a six inch deep planter would be right...6" x 24" at least! In reality, I cannot bring a pan big enough to provide for all our needs as we eat salad once per day.
My next attempt at gardening on the road was pesto ingredients to go...for me that is parsley and basil. Parsley has a long tap root so I found a kitty litter plastic jug at the recycling center which is about 12" tall...perfect and did the same for the basil...just because. I put two basil plants and two parsley plants in each of these. I used potting mix when I transplanted them in from their seed starting mix/nursery cells. The potting mix had some organic slow release fertilizer in it. This worked well...no aphids on either of these. (others years yes...so bring some diy insecticidal soap) I also brought some liquid seaweed to foliar feed these plants as I went along. I am not sure this provides for our needs either but it did speed things along for when we get home.
This year I was ready for the tomatoes after five years of contemplation...I was really ready to get early tomatoes in NY. We were going to be in Florida this year for just under three months so I held out no hope of getting red tomatoes in Florida...I couldn't get them started early enough. I purchased at Walmart four tomato plants (patio and another bush variety) and two peppers (giant Marconi Red)...they were a healthy 5" tall and in 4" pots (2 together on the tomatoes). Did I mention that I really stink at growing tomatoes. They always get diseased so yields are pathetic and I am never proactive to fix it...until NOW. For fungal attacks I brought baking soda (1 - 2 Tablespoons of baking soda to a gallon of water and spray leaves top and bottom but not if temp is over 80 degrees...repeat every 5 - 7 days). I also purchased liquid copper in Florida which worked better for me (repeat every 7 days). Some leaves still show signs of fungal attack and some tomatoes have spots on them...shame on me for not spraying from the very beginning! This is fungal land. So here it is the end of March and I have plants with mini peppers on them and plants with fair sized green tomatoes on them. AND varying degrees of fungal attacks...they don't look like better homes and gardens tomatoes!
The tomato plants have evolved...I bought them in January and almost immediately separated them into 1 gallon pots. February (end), they went into 3 gallon purchased pots...I really would like them to be in 5 gallon pots but no room! When we got home they needed to be repotted or put in the ground (it will be too early for this so bigger pots is probably it).
My parsley and basil this year are pretty happy (sprayed the basil for aphids).
This year I also started other plants from seed while down here for garden at home...tomatoes, peppers (neither of these would I do again...too hot in march to do this/just buy them), lettuce (so far so good...I keep it shaded), chard, bok choi, onions/leeks, tray of basil (loving this weather!), afina cutting celery (hard to germinate)...among others.
There are some state parks in Florida where squirrels or raccoons may play havoc with your tomatoes or digging in your plants...be prepared. One park we had to move them inside van EVERY night...a real pain.
This could be modified to suit your needs if you are a summer traveler. Tomatoes must be BUSH/DETERMINATE varieties (and check online to see what height your potential bush variety matures at...some are as big as four feet tall (think heavy, top heavy, needs support). If you just want a few tomatoes a small Patio variety would do...Tom Thumb is a whopping 15" maybe with small tomatoes.
UPDATE: Okay we have been home for about three days now. Because this has been one long winter in NY, I came home to almost no sign of life in my gardens....except for the daffodils coming up and two small hyacinth blooming...pathetically.
Because the weather is not really favorable to tomato and pepper plants being outside, David made a serviceable mini greenhouse for them to sit on the patio in when the weather is right...that means I am lugging 3 gallon tomato and pepper plants in and out each day (6 all together)...a pain. BUT, we did get one vine ripened tomato the second day after we came back AND 3 more are in the process of ripening....so it isn't horrible. I have 35 tomatoes on four plants that are about 2 - 2.5 feet from the top of the pot in measurement. BUT, I had to buy dirt for them in Florida (as they grew bigger and faster than I expected....) and pots, and liquid copper (twice), and stakes...maybe we can call it a wash or lets just see how many they produce in the end. Liquid copper $18.00, stakes $1.30 x 4, dirt $20.for two large bags..........
Would I do it again...no probably not. Because of the money spent, I may just purchase a few LARGE tomato plants when I get home to see how that works out for earlier tomatoes or bring some up from Florida. Next year I am not going to grow anything while we are in Florida...hey I need a break from fungal disease, aphids, tomato horn worms (courtesy of Florida but I won in the end but it was a tough battle).
Rv gardening works if you are staying in one place in SOUTHERN Florida for the winter season...like 4+ months because then you would actually get tomatoes then...other crops would also work...think container gardening. Be prepared to deal with Florida diseases, bugs, etc.