How to Grow Early Tomatoes
When should you start sowing your tomatoes? Where will they grow and when can you harvest them? I grow plenty of early tomatoes indoors. This is how!
My life has improved so much since I started to grow my own vegetables on this scale. I always have a few projects going, no matter the season. It brings me a lot of joy and I feel so peaceful just spending time around the plants. And fantasizing about new projects and the coming harvest too of course.
A few of you have been asking me about how I grow early tomatoes indoors, so I decided to write a bit more about this subject today. I haven't exactly gone all out this year though, and I don't think that my tomato plants are going to produce very many tomatoes. But that's actually not my main goal this year. I usually go for more plants for example but we have so many home renovations going on right now. So, there's simply not enough space or time to have high ambitions.
I actually really like growing small tomato varieties indoors. There are plenty of bushy little varieties out there that you can grow yourself. Especially online.
The small tomato varieties are often called potted tomatoes, for the simple reason that they grow really nicely in pots. You can also grow them in hydroponic systems, which is basically a container filled with water and fertilizer. I find that larger and taller tomato plants are more difficult to grow indoors. Simply because they need larger troughs, more space and most importantly, more thorough care and attention.
In my experience, the potted early tomatoes don't actually produce the sweetest tomatoes in my garden. But I don't care that much. I'm guessing that the lack of direct sunlight causes them to taste slightly less.
The varieties I'm growing indoor now are: Vilma, Microbel, Mascota, Micro Tom Tomato and Minibel. I haven't tried the last two varieties at all, so I'm very excited about that. Micro Tom Tomato is actually supposed to produce the smallest tomato plant in the world!
Sowing and growing early tomatoes
I decided to be very disciplined this year and actually only sowed a few seeds of each variety. The goal is to in the end only have one or at most two plants per variety. I sowed the seeds in regular outdoor planting soil, in little pots or troughs. I sowed the varieties (except for Micro Tom Tomato and Minibel) in the end of November, and the rest in the beginning of December. I left them on the heated floor in my living room the first few days, and then I moved them to our laundry room as soon as the first little plant sprouted. Now, I have them sitting in a south-facing window sill underneath a grow light which is on 14 hours every day.
- sow 1-2 extra seeds so that you have a backup in case one of your plants should die
- if you don't know what soil you should pick for your sowing, go for potting soil
- put the sowing on a warm surface, this will help the seeds grow
- cover the sowing with saran wrap or put it in a miniature greenhouse to keep the soil moist
I'm going to put the plants in new pots in a week or so when they developed their second pairs of leaves. When this happens, I make sure to plant the stalk properly. Tomato stalks are actually not negatively affected by being surrounded by soil. Instead, the stalk starts sprouting new little roots quite quickly.
At this point, I also start fertilizing my plants a little. I think that bokashi leachate works really well. If I want to give my plant an extra boost, then I just add some old bokashi soil from my greenhouse. I sometimes also fertilize my early tomatoes plants with diluted urine. Maybe this sounds strange to you, but urine is actually a really great fertilizer. Just make sure to dilute it properly so it's doesn't get too strong.
So, when is it time to start harvesting your early potted tomatoes? If you want to know how long you have to wait from sowing to harvest, you just need to look at the information on the back of the seed packet. You can also find any additional information you might need online. Make sure that you understand the terminology though. Some seed providers count the days from the sowing, others from when you transplant your seedling to your bed.
The company Impecta does for example write that the variety Vilma takes 55 days to grow. But we need to think differently about vegetables that need to be pre-cultivated. The information on the seed packet is more often than not counting from the day you transplanted your seedling outside. So you might need to do some math to add it all up.
- Germination - 5 days
- Pre-cultivation - 60 days (a rough estimate)
- Development time - 55 days
All in all:
So, if we add it all up, then we get around 4 months from sowing to harvest. A plant you sow in November can be harvested in the end of February/early March, for example.
It's actually quite hard to know how long the vegetables will generally take. There are so many factors to consider after all. You can actually get an even earlier harvest than expected if your environment is just right, but it can easily take longer too. In short, it depends.
Decorative early tomatoes
I just love having these wonderful plants around! I can't help myself from fussing over them. My goal is to keep them right by my window in my new cottage garden study. Why keep geraniums when you can have tomato plants after all?
I wanted to finish by saying this: Growing a few plants here and there like this doesn't make a huge impact for us, food-wise. We would need to grow many more plants. I can sometimes grow early tomatoes on a larger scale too though. It's after all quite easy to add a few more plants when you decide that you want to grow them. With a bit of luck, you might just be able to harvest a few tomatoes every day during spring. What could be better than that?