Indoor Winter Sowing
For most of us who have a definite winter season, the desire to have fresh garden tomatoes in those dark months is a real hardship! What to do? There are several options: dehydrating your tomatoes in the peak of summer, then pulverizing it and sprinkling it over slices of store-bought tomatoes, growing tomatoes that stay ripe for months like Rev Morrow’s Long Keeper, or having an equipped greenhouse. But if you didn’t start planning last year and can’t afford a greenhouse, what can be done?
Did you know you can grow tomatoes indoors successfully? Micro tomatoes remain under 12” in height and work beautifully indoors. There are many varieties of micro tomatoes; Jochalos, Lille Lise, Pinocchio Orange, Ditmarsher, Vilma, Whippersnapper, Borghese Vase Roman, Sirja’s Love, Golden Pearl, Red Robin, etc., it just depends on your preferences. Depending on your space, you could always try growing a dwarf as many stay under 3-4 feet tall. Dwarfs would allow you to have larger tomatoes as most micros are cherry-sized fruits.
Ask a hundred different people and each person will have a different set up for what works for their space. In order to avoid leggy plants don’t grow tomatoes by the window as plants won’t get adequate light during the winter months. A simple set up that works well is a bookshelf whose shelves can be adjusted as plants grow. On each shelf, hang a 4-foot fluorescent shop light with full-spectrum light bulbs. You can spend as much or as little as you want but the average set up costs around $20 per fixture with lights and last for many seasons. The fixtures come with metal hooks or you can use zip ties and tighten as necessary to move the lights higher as the plants grow.
Start your tomato seeds in a good growing mix. Many swear by ProMix potting soil with mycoactive, but you can use any medium that has given you success in the past and is available locally. When starting seeds, leave the lights on all day. However, when the first seedlings emerge, lower the light to about 16-18 hours a day. Consider a programmable timer for convenience. Water your plants as needed. As plants grow, replant them to individual pots after they get their first true leaves – from a tiny cell to 12oz containers to larger pots, or even outdoors in late spring. If you are growing tomatoes in pots, container size is important: micro tomatoes will need at least one-gallon pots, dwarfs will need at least 3-gallon pots and indeterminates will need at least 5-gallon pots. Depending on growth habits, stake your plants for support, for example, Lille Lise needed support while Borghese Vase Roman is a weeping type basket micro and needs no supporting structures.
Once a month use a liquid fertilizer. Fish fertilizer does have a smell though it tends to disappear after a day or so. Other options include kelp fertilizer. In order to keep plants happy and healthy, find a happy medium between light, water, and fertilizer. Remember that indoors and during the winter time plants can grow slower and just need patience. LED lights, grow lights and fluorescent lights will all work but full spectrum has been most successful for me. Depending on the light chosen, vary the height of plants. One may find that light too close can burn leaves though it won’t adversely hurt the plant. Just raise the light fixture. Around 60 days your plants will start producing flowers and fruit!