Food grown far away sometimes loses its pizzazz in the trip to the local market. Case in point: in cold weather, the supermarket tomatoes – the reasonably priced ones, anyway – are often dull in color, lacking in juice and bland in flavor. Must those distinctive textures and tastes so identified with tomatoes be absent from our palates until summer? Luckily, the answer is no. This delicious fruit that serves as a vegetable grows inside the house as well as out. Furthermore, it lacks nothing in the alternative environment. For passionate foodies, it is a worthwhile task to learn how to grow tomatoes indoors.
Start from the Seed
Outdoor garden tomatoes are generally transplanted seedlings. These were started indoors so it only makes sense to begin cultivating sheltered tomatoes from the seeds. When selecting them, think about the size of your space and the size of the mature plant. Determinate seeds are thus named because they stop growing at about three feet. On the other hand, indeterminate seeds will turn into much larger flora.
Another trait to bear in mind is disease resistance. Even inside, this plant is vulnerable to certain diseases. Those fruits bred for defiance against such afflictions stand a better chance of thriving. Common tomato tormentors are verticillium and fusarium. Commercial seeds are typically labeled with those infections to which they are immune.
Choose Smaller Varieties
Obviously, the determinate varieties are best suited for how to grow tomatoes indoors. The fruit-sized, i.e. grape and cherry tomatoes, bearing modest fruits in longer clusters,are popular indoor plants. Medium-size tomatoes like “Celebrity” and “Better Boy” also work well inside the house. One drawback to determinate breeds is that their vines produce fruit over a few weeks and then cease. Indeterminate tomatoes, by contrast, grow throughout the season, bearing fruit continually.
Experts in gardening and agriculture find three varieties particularly adaptable to container growth while delectable to the taste buds. Among them, the Bush Early Girl tomato earns high grades for flavor and productivity. The BushSteak tomato is a slicing fruit that yields abundant flesh and a pleasing essence. Meanwhile, the Sweet ‘n Neat are grape/cherry tomatoes that produce large quantities in little space. Each of these strands will result in satisfying harvests for those learning how to grow tomatoes indoors.
Strive for Maximum Sunlight (or Something Like It)
Sunlight helps seeds to germinate and seedlings to grow at a healthy clip. In general, germination takes place at a room temperature between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Although this is no problem during late spring and summer, the distant winter sun does not radiate with sufficient strength to get the job done. Plus, there are fewer hours of daylight.
Yet germination of seeds and development of young plants benefit from human ingenuity. A heat mat underneath the containers will support quick and robust sprouting while grow lights above the seedlings provide the kind of light spectrum that warm season sun would otherwise afford. Light and heat are essential components when learning how to grow tomatoes indoors.
Select a Large Container
A strong rule of thumb in how to grow tomatoes indoors is that size matters. Specifically, this plant does best in large containers – the larger the better. Plant scientists set the minimum at 14 inches, suggesting that a more appropriate size is at least 20 inches. Tomato crops respond to the extra space by growing larger and more numerous fruit. Root mass also expands as such vessels can hold more water.
Greater moisture capacity is important because warmer temperatures will begin to stress a tomato plant. Unless there is adequate water reserve, heat can have a detrimental effect on plant growth. As far as roots go, a larger mass that sits close to the soil surface boosts the dimensions and prolificacy of the fruit.
Use Potting Soil with Optimal Elements
If you do employ larger pots, you best acquire potting soil that is mixed for high-volume containers. The composition of growing media is the subject of much debate. For instance, there is a question about whether pest moss should be a dominant component since it can cause compression and crush the roots. Keeping it in proportion with perlite and composted pine bark is a more widely accepted practice. Other experienced growers swear by rice hulls, peanut shells and coir as potting soil staples.
Provide a Stake or Trellis for the Vine
Providing solid support for the vines is a must when learning how to grow tomatoes indoors. By growing determinant varieties in expansive containers, the trellises or stakes you choose need not be over-sized. Most gardeners find a cone-shaped, two-ringed trellis to be adequate to the task of receiving the vines. One caveat, however, deserves attention: do not wait to install this structure. Once the plant reaches a certain size, a metal trellis is bound to damage it upon penetrating the soil.
Stakes, by contrast, are inserted and removed more easily. The fruit is less vulnerable to diseases, and is ready for an earlier harvest. Still, using stakes has its drawbacks. For one thing, frequent pruning is necessary. The workload is greater with staked tomatoes. Furthermore, pressure rests on vine branches unless the gardener ties them up at numerous locations. Of course, tomato cages are available at garden centers but they do not lend themselves well to indoor cultivation.
All evidence to the contrary, tomatoes nevertheless do not raise themselves. Some plants are thirstier than others. Some are more sensitive to light. The gardener must keep a watchful eye from seedtime to harvest.
Along with herbs, tomatoes are the most popular plants for indoor gardening. Growing tomatoes optimally calls for the right seed, smaller varieties, ample light, generous containment, well-constituted potting soil and strong support structures. With these variables present, this much-coveted fruit is yours for the eating throughout the year. Remember, though, that tender loving care must always be paramount.