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Grow Your Own Tomatoes Indoors This Winter

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I need fresh tomatoes! When the first snow falls, I am usually sick to death of tomatoes.  After working hard all summer to get those beautifully bright fruit, and then working over a hot stove, in the hottest part of the year just to get them canned before they rot!  That feeling lasts only a few weeks, because the day after the snow falls, I am wishing I had just one more of those sun warmed babies in my hand. Nothing store bought even comes close!! A tiny dash of salt and pepper and it is AMAZING!!  Can you tell that as I write this, there is snow on the ground? So how do you grow tomatoes indoors during the winter months?

Here's what you need:

Grab some tomato seed.  Really, all tomato seed can be grown indoors, but if you have a long winter and would like tomatoes throughout, look for 'indeterminate' varieties of tomatoes.  Most patio and compact plants are 'determinate' which means they will grow to a certain size, produce a certain amount of fruit and then be finished. If you want heavy producers, the smaller types, like pear and cherry tomatoes produce much better then the slicing tomatoes when grown indoors. There are many varieties available so shop around to find the best tomato for your needs. A little trick if you want large plants fast, take some cuttings of a healthy tomato plant that's growing in your garden.  They root easily and will be a full grown plant in no time!

Sufficient lighting is a must.  A large south facing window works fantastic, but if you are not that fortunate, grab yourself some grow lights and be sure that you can adjust them as your plant grows.

Don't forget the soil.  You should consider some seed starting medium to start with, but it isn't necessary.  You can use garden soil, but I don't recommend it because you could potentially be introducing pests and diseases to your new plant.  If you do choose your garden soil, be sure it is sterilized (you can cook it in the oven at keep it at about 180ºF for at least 30 minutes).  It is just easier to grab some good potting soil to know your plant is starting out right.

You will need a container.  Now the size of the container really depends on the type of tomato plant you will be growing.  If you choose a small, compact, determinate tomato, the size of the container could be as small as 6".  For the indeterminate and one that will grow large over a long period of time, you are best to use a 5 gallon bucket or container.   You will not want your plant to become root bound and fail to thrive. Be certain that your container has drainage holes and a catch tray to keep the roots from getting too wet which can cause root rot.

Fertilizer will be needed.  As your plant becomes larger, it will deplete it's soil of nutrients, so grab some fertilizer specifically made for vegetables and follow instructions for container plants.

Finally, stakes.  It may not seem like it now, but your plant (depending on variety) will grow very large very fast. Find something to give it a little support while it's branches are supplying you with those delicious fruit.

Let's Grow!:

I suggest germinating seeds in a small pot with seed starter mix. Plant seeds about 1/4 inch deep in the soil and water well. Keep it moist but not wet.  If you are starting it in a small container, put a plastic baggie over the soil to make a small tent.  This will help keep the starting medium or soil consistently moist and prevent it drying out.  You should see germination in about 5 to 10 days, older seeds may take longer. Be sure to keep the light no more than 2" away from your plant if you are using artificial lighting.  If it is more than this, your plant will grow tall and spindly, trying desperately to get the light it needs.

If you chose to use starter mix, transplant it into your container when seedlings are about 3 inches tall. Be sure to give plants a deep watering.  More water, but less often. Watering deep causes plants to grow deeper roots.  This not only encourages stronger plants, but a plant that is less likely to wilt as often.

As soon as your tomato blooms, it's time to pollinate!  You can do this the easy way, by just gently tapping the stems and larger branches with a finger.  This causes pollen to fall from one flower to the next.  I do it a slightly different way.  I take a tiny paint brush and pretend I am lightly painting the inside of every flower while humming about bees or something.  I don't know why I do this but it's been my way for years and subsequently, it makes people think I am a bit mad.  The pollen from one flower sticks to the bristles and gets transferred to another.

Be sure to turn your plant from time to time, so it can grow evenly in the light you provided.

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