Growing Tomatoes Indoors: A Beginner’s Guide
With the increasing trend towards consuming organically grown foods, many Americans have begun growing their own fruits and vegetables. Not only does this process give growers control over how the plants are fertilized and treated for pest control, but it is also an economical and fun way to feed your family. One popular trend for those who may not have outdoor garden space is to utilize indoor pots. This works well for many produce items, particularly tomatoes. Whether you are recreating your grandmother’s marina sauce, putting together a fresh garden salad, or just slicing one up for a sandwich, tomatoes can be used for a multitude of delicious meals and dishes. Let’s take a look at some indoor growing tips for these tasty treats.
Start with a good standard soil mix that contains equal parts of of perlite, vermiculite, and sphagnum peat (check the package). These are all natural ingredients that work together to provide many of the nutrients your starter plants will require to survive. Add worm castings to this mix for fertilizer. Your balance should be 90% soil mix and 10% worm castings. These products can be purchased in the garden department of most home improvement stores or at your local nursery. Add water to the soil mix and an organic plant tonic such as liquid seaweed or Thrive Alive. These will add root resilience and stimulate plant growth. You know you have the right consistency when you squeeze a handful of soil and just a drop or two of moisture comes out. When choosing seeds, look for varieties that say they are good for indoor or patio growing.
Next, get a plant tray, preferably with a cover, or you may use peat pots. Fill the tray with the soil mixture and plant seeds no deeper than 1/4 inch, with no more than 6-8 seeds per square inch. Place the cover on the tray to help maintain moisture. You may also want to occasionally mist the soil lightly. The ideal temperature for this process is around 78-80 degrees. You should begin to see sprouting in about 5-10 days. As soon as these appear, remove the cover and place plants about four or five inches beneath a florescent light for a minimum of 18 hours a day. If they begin to appear leggy, lower the light a bit. When plants are approximately one and a half inches tall, transplant them into their own containers.
Keep these pots under the florescent lighting for at least 18 hours a day, adding the Thrive Alive and an organic plant fertilizer as directed. Temperatures should be kept in the lower 70′s during the day and upper 60′s at night. When the plants reach about a foot in height, transplant them into 1 gallon containers with no more than one plant per container. Choose the tallest and healthiest ones to transplant. You may want to go ahead at this point and insert a dowel rod into the soil approximately 8 inches from the stem. This will provide support for the plant as it gets taller and begins to produce fruit.
After 6-8 weeks, it is time to force the flowering process. Transplant into three gallon containers and add a little bone meal to the soil mixture. Plants intuitively know the patterns of the seasons, and when the days become shorter and nights longer, they go into reproduction overdrive to get ready for the colder weather. Indoor growers have to simulate this process. You will need to put the plants somewhere that can be kept completely dark for at least 12 hours a day, without interruption. Continue to rotate this precise 12 hour light/dark pattern for eight to ten weeks. During this time, water and fertilize as directed. As soon as the flowers develop and open, place an electric toothbrush on the plant’s stem to shake the pollen loose. In a few days you will begin to see the fruit develop. Continue the process until you are enjoying fat, juicy tomatoes.