Growing indoor tomatoes is like raising a spoiled children. There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes and they are grown worldwide in many different climates, soils and weather conditions. Yet, the hearty tomato plant has a few demands that it places upon we gardeners before it will produce those luscious tomatoes we all enjoy so much.
All tomato plants can be cultivated indoors. However there are some varieties that have been specifically bred for indoor environments and the limitations of containers. Your local nursery will help you pick out the right one for your climate and growing season.
Next to water and a light source; the right soil mix is a major player in successfully growing tomatoes indoors. Not only is the content of the soil important but also the pH. The soil should contain similar percentages of vermiculite, perlite and peat. For every gallon of this mix, one should add a teaspoon of hydrated lime. This ensures that the pH of the soil is right, which should be slightly acidic at 5.5-6.5. Another big advantage of adding lime is that it is a good source of calcium. Calcium is good for tomatoes when they ripen too to avoid what is known as blossom end rot where the tomatoes develop dark bottoms due to deficiency.
We all learned about photosynthesis in grade school and how important it is to a plants survival. Tomato plants are no different. Up to 18 hours of sunlight per day is optimum. If there isn’t sufficient sunlight, artificial sunlight…a flourescent lamp placed about 6 inches over the plants will work. Attach an automatic timer and you reduced your workload. Tomato plants love the sunlight though. So if you can move your container around your home to follow the sun and turn the plant so that all the leaves receive ample light you will be rewarded handsomely with beautiful fruit. Careful not to burn the leaves or the fruit with the intense sunlight. Dark time is also very important for plants save at least 6 hours per day for rest. Room temperature ideally should be about 70-75 degrees F. with a similar humidy.
If you are starting your plants from seed; begin with a starter mix of soil per the recipe above. Place the seeds, 2-3 per location, cover them with about 3/4-1 inch of soil and keep it moist – not wet for about 10 days. You should begin to see seedlings by this time, and you may have to thin them out a little to make room for the hearty ones. In about 3 more weeks you should have real plants with leaves and maybe even blossoms. Now is the time to place the seedlings into their permanent containers ( 3-5 gallon size). When you transplant place the seedlings an extra 11/2 to 2 inches deeper than they were in the starter mix. Mound the soil up around the stem, and pinch off the top half inch or so of the plant. Why? Planting the stem deeper in the soil will induce the stem to push out more roots making the plant more stable and capability to absorb more nutrients. Pinching off the top forces the growth down to those new roots. Pinching of the ends of the branches can be done throughout the growing season and to enlarge the tomato growth.
When the tomatoes are finally transplanted into the containers they need to be fed heavily with a good fertilizer with good percentage of all three elements, nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Add some more hydrated lime at this time as well. A little fish fertilizer particularly after the fruit appears is very helpful.
Tomato plants like their feet moist but not wet, and they like consistency. Remind you of children? Pretty much the same! Water on a consistent basis. Don’t let the container dry out like a house plant then flood it with water. Will just cause the tomato plant to rot. And talk about being spoiled? Research conducted by nursery owners says that tomato plants in quiet, low traffic areas will produce more tomatoes!
Those little stems and leaves that grow in the cracks of where the branches meet the stem? Trim those out so they don’t block the light to the inner plant and your tomatoes. Careful not to get too over zealous with the trimming…remember photosynthesis requires leaves! A mix of soap and water will ensure that the pests stay away from the plants. Put a tablespoon or so of dish washing soap per spray bottle, add water, and just spray the entire plant including the exposed soil in the container.
Indoor tomatoes have a private room with a view, lots of light and fresh air, low traffic and room service! Keep up the good work and you will have fresh, juicy tomatoes for that garden salad in about 55 days.