If you thought that you could only grow tomatoes outdoors or in a greenhouse, then think again because this is a plant that is far more versatile than you could ever imagine.
In actual fact, growing tomatoes is going to also be easier than you would perhaps believe and indeed that is one of the main reasons as to why so many people look at growing them in their own home as it really does not require too much specialist horticultural knowledge for them to be a success. However, most people are going to be blissfully unaware of the actual origin of the plant and how it came to be so popular.
The tomato plant is actually part of the nightshade family of plants and that will automatically make you think that there is no way that it should be so tasty because surely that plant is deadly? Well, that may be the case but this is a different sub species so there is no need to be concerned.
The species is believed to have originated in Central America and the word ‘tomato’ comes from the Aztec language which was then picked up by the Spanish as they conquered the region. Indeed, it was then the Spanish that were responsible for spreading the word of the tomato taking it out of Central America and opening it up to a wider audience that could appreciate the taste.
Due to its origins in the land of the Aztecs, it is believed that the tomato plant was first grown sometime around 700AD. However, it was not until the 16th century that it started to really gain in popularity, first of all throughout Central America and then further south before it was then really first introduced into Europe.
The humble tomato plant had a rather rocky beginning as it was believed at first that the plant was actually poison and you did not dare to put any of it close to your mouth. For example, it was believed in the early days of North America that the tomato would turn your blood into acid and that would eventually kill you. As a result, the tomato was grown just as a type of decoration and was not grown for its culinary properties. However, things are different today.
But what about the goodness that is contained within them? We all know that they are supposed to be healthy but what do we actually mean by that? Well, the humble red tomato has more goodness in it than you would ever expect to have in any kind of fruit (and it is classed as a fruit remember) and the list of things that are good in it is pretty impressive.
The first thing to know is that the tomato is high in antioxidants and that is going to be very beneficial for your health. Not only that but they are low in calories, high in Vitamin C and Vitamin A, fiber, Beta-carotene, and rich in flavonoids which are brilliant at helping skin cells and the body in general. In other words, the average tomato really is packed full of goodness and that is why it should be a staple part of the diet.
However, if you are looking at growing them indoors then there are a number of tips that you should take into consideration that will ultimately make your life easier.
Tip 1: Understanding the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes.
The first thing to learn about is the difference that exists between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes and if you have never heard of these two differences then it is best you get acquainted with them.
Basically, determinate tomato plants are the bushy type so they are going to be more compact in size. Generally speaking, you will be looking at plants that grow to something in the region of 4ft in height which is useful when you are looking at growing them in a spot in your home where the space is rather restricted.
However, they also act differently with the way in which they produce fruit. You will find that they will stop their growing when flowers appear on the top of the plant before they then produce all of their crop at the same time and die. In other words, you could end up with a substantial crop all at the one time and that is not exactly going to be good news for some people.
Indeterminate tomato plants are different in that they are the vine variety. The average height that they will grow is 6ft although they are known to grow as high as 10ft and they will keep on growing until you either remove the growing tip or they are killed off because of colder temperatures and frost. With these tomatoes, you will have to cage or stake them to give support due to their size and it may be an idea to remove side-shoots to help with the main plant.
If you are wondering as to which variety to go for, then most growers would state that they would choose an indeterminate type for growing indoors. This is because it does not grow up to just a certain point and then stop so the result is you get fruit for longer rather than just a couple of weeks as is the norm with the determinate varieties.
Tip 2: Indoor varieties – Heirlooms vs hybrids.
Here is another tip that is focused primarily on indoor varieties of tomato plants and that is the difference between heirlooms and hybrids.
Now, there is actually some debate between tomato experts as to which one you should grow as both have their own strengths and weaknesses for you to be aware of. However, both are capable of producing quality fruit if you know what you are doing with them.
The difference comes down to some basic understandings of the plants themselves. Heirloom plants are also referred to as open pollinated plants and these varieties have been reproduced for generations and because of this they are actually originating from the same seeds without any external influences.
In short, some heirloom tomato plants actually go back hundreds of years and this has meant that they do have a number of positives and negatives associated with them. For example, heirloom varieties are very stable and their flavor is generally seen as being superior to other plants and another major positive is that they tend to be quite resistant to the majority of diseases. However, you will often find that the fruits and plants tend to take longer to mature resulting in less productivity.
Hybrid plants are different. With these, you will have a plant that is the result of two genetically different varieties that have been brought together in order to create a brand new plant. This plant is actually preferred by the majority of commercial growers as there is a sense that you know what you are going to be getting in advance from these plants so they also have an idea of the size of the crop that they will get from each plant.
However, that is not the only advantage of hybrid plants. They are also less susceptible to disease and the plants themselves are stronger with them being able to withstand poorer growing conditions without it further hampering the productivity. The only problem is that they do tend to have less flavor to them.
So, what do you buy? Well, that is really up to you. Do you want longevity and a more productive plant or do you prefer to put more into the flavor of them?
Furthermore, there are also a number of different varieties to choose from no matter which option you go for and once again this is something that you need to think carefully about.
As you are growing them indoors it is important that you choose the varieties that produce smaller fruit so in this instance you are looking at either cherry tomatoes or plum tomatoes. Now, do not be put off by the fact that you are growing smaller fruit as these plants will produce a heavier crop and the fact that they are smaller will also result in them ripening faster so there is less waiting around for them to get ready.
Here are some variety names for you to look out for:
Baxter’s Early Bush.
Tip 3: How to choose the right container.
So, you have finally selected the variety of tomato that you would like to grow indoors so now we have to look at taking the next step and in this instance we are talking about the container that you need to choose.
Now, the exact type of container that you end up using is going to depend on several things, but generally speaking most growers of indoor tomatoes will opt for a larger container of around 5 gallons although with the smaller varieties of tomato plants it is possible to even keep them in hanging baskets.
However, the key to selecting the correct container is to first of all know the variety that you are going to grow as that will then be related to the size and depth of soil that is required along with the space that each plant is going to require in order to grow. You have to remember that a tomato plant is going to throw out a number of roots and the one thing that they do hate is to have their roots crushed and tangled as that will halt the plant in its tracks. If you are in any doubt as to the size of the container to use, then always go for the bigger option just to be on the safe side.
Apart from the size you do also have to think about how well the soil is going to be able to drain because tomato plants do require good drainage for them to then be able to grow well. If you choose a pot that does not have good drainage then the water will sit there in the soil and rot the roots. You need to check the container to see if it has drainage holes in the base and if it does not then you have to make them yourself. That will allow any excess water to seep through rather than sitting there in the roots and slowly killing the plant.
Finally, we have to think about the material that the pot is made from as there are a number of different options available. Perhaps the two materials that are most popular are plastic and terra cotta and both have their advantages. Plastic is inexpensive and they do hold the moisture well so you will need to water the tomato plants less often. Terra cotta (or clay) look better and because of the material that they are made from they do allow both water and air to circulate which is better for the root system. However, with the clay pots you will find that the soil does dry out faster so you need to keep a closer eye on the soil and water them more often.
Tip 4: Choosing the correct potting mix.
Now, when it comes to growing tomatoes then you have to make sure that you have the correct potting mix so that the seeds or small plants that you have just bought are going to have the best possible start to life.
Experienced growers will tell you that you cannot just go ahead and throw tomatoes into any kind of compost as they are very particular in what they like. Remember, if you start them off in the correct conditions then you will get better results so it is important to get this correct at the first time of asking.
So, the best tips when it comes to the potting mix is that tomato plants need a soil that is able to drain well and is crammed full of organic material and that means you have to avoid just using the soil from your own garden. That soil will often stick together and just not be as free draining as you need leading to root rot. At the same time you should avoid using just normal potting soil as that will tend to be far too heavy for the tomato plant so you need to look at spending a bit of money to purchase a quality type of compost that has the perfect mix for a tomato plant.
But what is the correct mix?
Well, we are talking about you using an actual potting mix but even with this there are several important things to think about. Generally speaking, this mix should contain some sand, compost, perlite, peat moss and vermiculite. This is going to give you the correct mix and moisture retention that you are looking for and you will be able to purchase this exact mix from your local gardening store. However, it is also possible to make your own mix if that is what you prefer.
If this is indeed the case, then you need to think about these points. First, the potting soil that you can purchase is going to be sterile so there is less chance of it being infected with different pests and diseases. In addition, if you buy soil without perlite then you are best to add it in because it not only helps with moisture retention but it also stops the soil from being saturated and becoming too compacted and the same can be said for including moss in the mix.
Get the correct mix and you will see a massive difference in the quality of the plants that you then grow and you will also get a bumper crop of tomatoes.
Tip 5: Getting the correct lighting conditions.
Here is something that is very important if you want to get things off to an impressive start, you need to provide those seeds or young plants with the correct amount of light or you will really struggle to get anywhere. Remember, the light is required for the plants to then be able to germinate correctly and by getting the intensity correct you will then ultimately be able to have stronger plants that produce more fruit over an extended period of time.
Now, there are two options available to you and the first one is to make sure that those plants are in a nice sunny place so that they get the maximum amount of sunlight possible throughout extended periods of the day. However, as you are growing them indoors this is not always going to be possible so you then have a bit of a problem. In addition, you will be limited with where you are able to grow the plants indoors so when it then comes to dealing with the natural light issue you will have an even bigger problem as that is going to further reduce where you are able to put the plants. As a result, your plants will be weaker and less capable of producing the fruit that you are looking for which renders this entire process as being a waste of time.
To counteract that problem you should be looking at using LED grow lights to help you out. These lights will give you the correct intensity all over the plant resulting in more stable growth and you will also help to eliminate the problem of the fruit ripening at various times and also only part of the fruit ripening due to the way in which the natural light hits the fruit. Once again, LED grow lights help you to better control the growing and ripening process due to the way in which it is directed onto the plants.
There is so much control when you use these lights and of course it does also mean that you are not restricted with where you can keep the tomato plants in your home. As long as you have space for the containers and lights you can have them anywhere no matter how much, or how little, natural light is able to hit them during the day. Also, it does not restrict you to the same extent as to when you are able to grow them in the year as you can have the same amount of light no matter the month or what the weather is like outside. The result? More tomatoes over an extended period of time.
Tip 6: Effective planting for tomatoes.
As we have now guided you through the effective setting up of everything so that you can successfully grow tomatoes we have to look at how you plant them in order to get the maximum crop over the longest period of time. Now, obviously this is something that is going to vary depending on the variety itself but at the same time we have to talk about how you plant them as you certainly do not want too much competition.
Ideally, you should be looking at just a single plant per container as it is not just the roots that you have to think about but also the height and spread of the plant itself as you do not want them to be fighting one another for the nutrients in the soil or space. Now, if you are growing seeds then you have to ¾ fill the container with the correct potting mix followed by giving the soil some water. You should then look at adding the seeds before covering them with a very light dusting of soil and moisten it slightly.
However, if you are looking at growing plants that are already established then you need to still ¾ fill the container (as it allows you to then water the plants without the water just pouring over the top of the container) and then make a hole in the middle of the container for the plant. Once you take the plant out of its existing pot you have to press it firmly into the new container before adding slightly more soil around it to hold it into place. You should then give it some water so that it can then start to settle into its new home.
Tip 7: Getting the correct temperature.
We discussed the importance of getting the correct amount of light earlier on but there is something else that is just as equally as important when it comes to being able to get tomato plants to not just germinate but to grow as strongly as possible, the temperature.
Some people make the mistake of believing that the temperature has to be as high as possible so that you get bigger plants, but that is not always the case. In actual fact, if the temperature is too high on a regular basis then there is every chance that the plant will be too weak and thing resulting in the plant being forced to mature before it is actually ready to do so. You will then have a poorer crop to harvest as a result and you have just basically wasted all of the time and effort that you have put into cultivating the plant.
Tomatoes are warm season plants so clearly they are not that happy being in the cold for extended periods of time. Experts state that the best temperatures for the soil will be above 12C but with the air temperature it is going to be more beneficial for the plant and its germination if the temperature is in the region of 18C to 32C. Also, it has to be kept away from any areas where the temperature can drop too low as it does require over 50 days of those temperatures for it to then be able to get to a stage where it is able to harvest its crop.
So, how do you get the correct temperature? Well, as you are growing them indoors it is going to be easier than you think although you should still use a temperature gauge so you can keep a track of what is going on. The key here is going to be the air temperature as the soil should be warm enough as it is not going to be exposed to frost or the colder outdoor temperatures. Keep an eye on the heat in the room where they are being stored and getting the correct temperature should not be a problem.
Tip 8: Dealing with water.
Every plant needs water for it to then be able to grow and tomato plants are no different from the rest. However, you need to be careful with how much water you give them at different points throughout their growing stages as the volume does change.
For example, when the plant is still young then the last thing that you want to do is to over water the plant as it is just not strong enough to be able to cope with all of that moisture. However, the picture changes when those first tomatoes appear on the plant because you need to really up the water input as that is going to have a direct impact on the quality of the fruit that you get and also how much flavor is in them.
Now, if you have used the correct potting mix then the roots will not be saturated as that is going to kill the plant in next to no time. However, you do need to water the plants thoroughly in order to encourage the roots to seek out the moisture as this is then going to help them to grow. Ideally, you should be looking at watering so that it gets to a depth of around six inches in the container but you should only look at adding some more water when the plant clearly needs it. In addition, you may want to use gels that release water over an extended period of time and in a controlled manner as they have become more popular in recent times.
Too little water will only stress out the plants but too much will kill them.
Tip 9: Dealing with fertilizer.
In order to get the absolute best from your tomato plants it is important that you use the correct fertilizer. Now, we do not recommend you just getting any general kind of organic fertilizer as there are a number of options out there that are purely designed for tomato plants and that means it has the correct mix of nutrients that will result in a better crop over the duration of the plant.
Furthermore, you also have to be careful with the timing of using fertilizer because prior to the plant developing the first fruit then a general feed for the plant will suffice. However, you should then look at switching over to the more specific fertilizer at the first sign of the fruit as that will help with the production of the tomatoes.
The tomato plant is known as a heavy feeder so you have to add fertilizer unless you are using a soil mix that is very heavy in nutrients. Generally, the plants are going to require high levels of both nitrogen and phosphorus but before you go adding anything you have to get your soil tested to see what the natural levels of nitrogen are prior to doing anything. If the soil is higher in nitrogen, then the fertilizer that you choose should be higher in phosphorus as too much nitrogen is going to result in a number of problems. You also have a choice to make with the fertilizer. You have liquid that can just be mixed with water or a powder that is then added to water. However, the best fertilizer will be the type that is slow release so the plant is not hit with a huge amount of nutrients at the one time.
Tip 10: The importance of staking tomatoes.
The issue of staking tomatoes is one that you are going to have to address. You need to remember that these plants have a central stem with the fruit growing off the branches that spring from that central stem so it ends up with quite a lot of weight appearing on the end of the branches and if you are successful at growing quality plants, then you could have a plant that just cannot support the weight leading to all kinds of problems. Also, if you are growing a variety that is an indeterminate type of tomato then you will have to stake them. However, determinate types do stop growing so you may be able to get away without doing this although, once again, that does depend on the variety that you end up growing.
Now, that is how you stake tomatoes, but there are a number of clear benefits of doing this that we need to mention. First of all, you will be able to train the plants to grow upright because without staking you will see that they have a tendency to just fall all over the place taking up more space and looking rather untidy. Furthermore, staking them correctly will lead to the plants getting the correct amount of light and space to grow so you will actually end up with more fruit and as there is more light getting to the fruit it also means that they will ripen faster as well.
As the plants are more upright, it then means that the tomatoes themselves will be further off the ground and this will reduce the number of pests or diseases that are then able to attack them. You will then have healthier plants which is always going to be a major bonus.
To stake them, you have to consider building a framework of both horizontal and vertical stakes. Start with the vertical and space them out so that the plant has support in a straight line for it to grow against. You then have to tie in the horizontal lines so that the different branches and main stem of the plant can then be tied to the stakes as it grows. Look at the maximum height that you wish to grow the plant to and create the framework to that height. It might take some time to do this but it will be worth it all in the end.
Tip 11: How to prune tomato plants.
It is generally accepted by most growers that if you want to have a bumper crop of tomatoes then you need to do some pruning of the plants. However, there is a very specific way in which you need to do this and it is all about trying to direct the most energy and nutrients to the correct parts of the plant.
For example, as the tomato plant grows you will see the main branches of leaves coming off the main stem and those are things that you need to leave alone. However, as they develop you will then see smaller branches starting to sprout from the join between that branch and the main stem and this is something that you should take off. This smaller shoot is going to draw away a lot of energy and the plant is then unable to put as much of those key nutrients into developing the fruit.
By pruning the plants you will allow more sunlight into the main parts and you will then get a stronger plant as a result. You have to remember that the plant is going to continue to produce energy throughout its life and you have to continue to prune these side shoots so that you do not lose out on the fruit that is then generated. The good news is that you simply have to pinch these side shoots out and to just check on a regular basis as new ones will appear.
There are a number of other advantages of doing this. First, you will get fruit faster than before so there is less waiting around for the crop. You will also get larger fruit as a result of this and it has also been shown to reduce the chances of disease hitting the plant so things will be healthier in general.
Tip 12: Dealing with those pesky pests.
The tomato plant is not immune from having to contend with pests and the problem that we have is that they can easily damage the plant in general and have a profound impact on the quality of the fruit that you are then able to grow.
Now, there are a number of different key pests that you need to look out for and not all are as harmful as others so it is important that you understand the difference and what you are looking at. The most common problem are aphids, these are small pests that hit the leaves of the plant and you will see them in clusters. You may also find cutworms that are like small caterpillars although they will appear at night and there should be less chance of you getting them when you are growing the tomato plant indoors. You should also keep an eye out for beetles as they can be very damaging to the plant and have to be dealt with immediately.
When it comes to treating the plant for these pests then clearly you need to be careful with what you use. You should look at using natural sprays rather than things that are full of pesticides because clearly you do not want to go down that route. However, the best way of dealing with them is to keep a close eye on the plant and deal with the problem at the earliest opportunity and before it can spread. The fact you are growing them indoors will certainly help.
Tip 13: Dealing with diseases.
A tomato plant can easily be susceptible to a number of different diseases and it is important that you catch these problems when they are still in their infancy due to the way in which they can have a direct impact on the fruit that then grows. In short, a number of the diseases will be capable of basically killing the plant or at least making the tomatoes themselves inedible.
However, there are a number of things that you can do in order to combat those diseases and to stop them from taking hold so quickly. Clearly you will want to be careful with what you end up using because you are dealing with something that you are then going to eat and most people will not want to cover the plant and the fruit in a variety of harmful chemicals.
With diseased branches you should look at removing them to stop the spread of the disease and do this as soon as you have identified the problem. You should be keeping an eye out for black spots appearing and if this is not stopped then the fruit will rot before it is able to ripen so you would then be wasting your time. If you find that the leaves are turning yellow then this is wilts although it may just affect one side of the plant at first before jumping over to the other side.
If you plant them too close to one another or water them too much then you will find that they can develop mold on the leaves so clearly they also have to be removed. This is easy to spot as it resembles a powdery substance on the leaves.
Dealing with diseases on tomato plants tends to involve pruning or spraying the plants with a natural solution to combat the disease. However, you need to correctly identify the problem before treating it or you could make matters worse.
Tip 14: Harvesting the tomatoes at the correct time.
If we can jump forward in time and look at the harvesting point because this is also something that you need to really know what you are doing so that you end up getting the best possible tomatoes at the best possible time.
Now, we are not talking about rocket science here but basically when you see that the tomatoes have turned that familiar red color then they are ready to harvest. However, it is going to be very rare that all of the tomatoes on a single vine are going to ripen at the exact same time without some additional help although the LED grow lights can give a more consistent source of light actually increasing the chances of this happening.
Harvesting tomatoes usually happens 2 to 3 months after planting but do not think that you have to wait until they are fully red before picking them. A tomato will continue to ripen after it has been picked as that particular process has already been started. You should also pick them as they ripen to then allow more light to those tomatoes that are close to them or you will have a problem with some tomatoes being ripe at parts and not at others. You could also give the tomato a slight squeeze as it will be fully ripe when it is slightly soft to the touch so this is a bit of a fine art form.
To harvest them simply hold the tomato and give it a twist and it will break off the vine. It really is that easy.
Tip 15: Storing your newly harvested tomatoes.
We are guessing that you have not just looked at growing one single tomato plant and you probably have a number of them growing at the one time. This can often lead to you suddenly having more tomatoes that are ripe and ready for eating that you then have no idea how to handle them. We accept that this is a problem and you do not want to see them going to waste especially after you have put so much effort into the entire process.
To store them, they need a cool environment so that they will last for longer but do not put them in your refrigerator as that is too cold for them and they will not last as long although they can be put in there for a couple of days before being removed. Instead, keep them in a cool spot in the kitchen and put them in plastic bags as they do like things to be slightly moist and humid.
Tip 16: Tomato recipes to consider trying out.
The final tip that we are going to discuss is perhaps the best part of all of this, eating them. Now, you may very well have your own ideas as to what to do with them but there is going to be no harm in getting some extra tips that you may never have even thought of up until this point.
Now, we could say tomato soup but they are far more versatile than this. How about a salsa? Your own tomato ketchup? As a base for a pasta sauce? As a base for some types of curry? Chutney? As the tomato base in a Bloody Mary? A tomato tart? A tomato quiche? A tomato salad?
When you stop and think about it the list is pretty endless and the best advice is to search online and just remember that you have the main ingredient growing inside your own home.
There you have it, 16 rather useful tips on how to grow tomatoes indoors and all that you now have to do is to go ahead and put the tips into action. As you can see, there is not actually that much to it once you have made the decision as to which variety it is that you would like to grow and as long as you just take some time in getting things correct at the start then there is no reason why you will not end up with some pretty impressive plants and a healthy crop of tomatoes.