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Tomatoes are the both the most eaten vegetable in the US and the most grown vegetable in home gardens, with 86% of gardeners reportedly growing tomatoes. But how many of you think of growing tomatoes in containers?
So let’s clear up what tomatoes are.
Tomatoes are actually a botanically a fruit.
In 1893 the US Supreme Court ruled that tomatoes are vegetables. This was decided due in all or partly so that tomatoes could be taxed under the Tariff Act of 1883 which taxed only vegetables, not fruit. To learn more about this court decision check out this great article from historydaily.org
What is a vegetable vs a fruit?
According to livescience.com, a fruit is a seed-bearing structure that developed from the ovary of a flower and a vegetable is all other parts such as leaves, stems, and roots.
This definition would put tomatoes directly in the fruit category, however, there is another way to classify vegetables.
We use the word vegetable most often not in the sense of botanical terms but in terms of culinary.
In culinary terms, a vegetable is an edible part of a plant typically savory not a sweet taste.
No matter how you categorize a tomato they are a big part of most diets and gardens.
So how do you grow tomatoes in containers?
Growing tomatoes indoors from seeds
Tomatoes are pretty easy to start from seed. Even if you decide to plant outside, it can be a good idea to start tomato seeds indoors.
Plant seeds in a dark moist medium. I like using a light seed starting mixture. There are many of these pre made mixtures available at your local garden shops or other stores.
I use a mixture of coco fiber, and compost.
Keep the seeds lightly moist using a spray bottle so you will not disturb the soil. The containers should stay in a dark place until they start to sprout.
When your tomato plants start to sprout, put them under a grow light. The grow light should be kept very close to the seedlings, not more than an inch or so away.
When you see at least 2 true leaves then you can transfer your tomato plants to a permanent home.
Grow tomatoes from cuttings
One of my favorite ways to start new tomato plants is to start with a cutting from an older plant.
This will only work if you currently have a plant. If you don’t, then try buying or starting just one plant as a “mother plant” and grow the rest of your plants from that one.
There are lots of great reasons to start from cuttings:
You can save weeks of grow time.
You can grow from hybrid or heirloom
You can save lot and lots of money
Check out all the information How to start tomatoes from cuttings
Tomatoes don’t actually take up that much space.
Tomatoes grow up not out. They require 5 to 6 feet of height to fully develop. Since tomatoes are truly vines, they can be trained to grow up the side of walls, along railings or up windows.
Each of these hydroponic tomato plants is growing straight up without much floor space per plant.
It is very popular to grow tomatoes upside down. This allows the vine to just hang rather than be supported to grow up.
This is a perfect way to grow tomatoes indoors if you have an interior balcony or lofted space. As long as to can reach the roots for watering taking advantageous high ceilings is a great use of space and makes for happy tomatoes.
Size of containers needed
Tomatoes do well in containers and pot from 3 to 5 gallons. A 5-gallon bucket is a versatile choice for tomatoes whether hanging, soil or hydroponic growing.
Small varieties can be grown in 2 gallon containers however if you give them more room then they will do well.
A trick to be able to give your plant a bigger pot without disturbing the roots is to use a paint strainer as a liner in your pot. The paint strainer will not inhibit the growth of roots. They are biodegradable. And will making transplanting super easy.
Growing tomatoes under led lights
Light is very important to your tomato plants. Many varieties do best with at least 8 hours of full sun. However, some varieties of tomatoes like cherry tomatoes actually like the shade. Check the specifics for your favorite to help decide what the best lighting is for that variety.
Regardless of the amount of time your plants like to enjoy the full sun you can achieve the same effect with grow lights. This can work to your advantage when deciding where to plant your tomatoes. There are hundreds of different options for growing available. Adding a grow light to your plants can brighten up otherwise dark areas making your whole space nicer. Led lights are the most efficient for growing tomatoes and other vegetables indoors.
Make sure your grow lighting is full-spectrum lighting. To learn more about how to choose the right grow light check out Making sense of grow lights
Soil for tomatoes is an art form itself.
Tomatoes do well with lots of compost. Have you ever thrown tomatoes into your compost pile only to find tomato plants growing in the pile soon after? It can be disheartening to find that those untended plants grow faster than the plants you work hard to care for more n your garden.
Check out more about potting soil mixtures
So first, start with a nice rich mixture with lots of organic material.
Good drainage is a must. When growing tomatoes indoors it is important that you have a well-drained container. Tomatoes can develop problems if the soil gets to muddy.
Signs of overwatering include:
Stems limp or mushy feeling
Cracks in the fruit’s skin
Bumps or corkscrewing of the leaves
Tomatoes grown in containers are sensitive to roots rotting from overwatering. This can be deadly for your plants. Keep an eye out for any problems and address them right away.
Try planting with a mixture of high organic material and sand to find the right balance of nutrients and drainage.
PH level best for growing tomatoes indoors
The right PH levels are important for the best tomato harvest. The proper PH level is 6.0 to 6.8. This soil is a little on the acid side, which is what most of your vegetables do well in.
You should start with good rich soil. As your tomato plants grow, you can add a balanced fertilizer every couple of weeks.
Be careful not to add a high nitrogen fertilizer because your plant will have beautiful green leaves but will not fruit. It is best to use a balanced fertilizer or one that is designed for tomatoes. These will be higher in phosphorus to help with increased fruiting.
Many gardeners use Epsom salt as an addition to the garden soil. Epsom salt is completely water-soluble. The roots absorb this essential mineral and it is then delivered to the rest of the plant.
These natural minerals, magnesium, and sulfur are essential for fruit and stem development.
It is a good idea to add about 2 tablespoons of Epsom salt per gallon of water. Water your plants as normal using this mixture instead of plain water once a week.
Tomatoes do best fruiting at temperatures in the 70s. Tomatoes will actually stop ripening if the temp drops below 55 or goes above 85 degrees.
Growing tomatoes indoors pollination is important
As your tomato plants flower you will have to act like a bee and do your own pollination. This is a very important step. Without pollination your plants will not produce fruit.
It is pretty simple to pollinate your indoor tomatoes. When the flowers are at full open, use a electric toothbrush to vibrate the base of the flower. This will move the pollen inside the flower. Tomatoes are self-pollenated however don’t let that fool you. Tomatoes outside have the help of wind and insects to spread the pollen. Indoor growers need to vibrate the flowers a bit to insure pollination. Do this several times over the life of any flower to insure a good pollination. It only takes a few seconds but without it you will not get fruit.
Your harvest time will vary a little with a variety of tomatoes however on average you should be able to have tomatoes 50 days after planting.
On average your single tomato plant will yield you 10 pounds or 30 tomatoes per plant. Cherry tomato plant will produce hundreds of little gems.
If you love growing tomatoes outside you should try growing tomatoes indoors, even in the winter. It will give you the same great food and great pleasure. Plus it will make you smile when you are picking your lunch from your indoor garden during a snow storm.
If you are interested in learning more about the science of growing tomatoes outside check out The University of Minnesota extension article. They wrote a nice complete guide.
Hydroponic indoor tomatoes
Tomatoes grow great indoors using Dutch buckets. If you want to try indoor hydroponics, tomatoes are a good way to start.
Indoor hydroponic tomatoes are easy and usually grow very high yields.
Find out all about the ins and out of growing tomatoes indoors with hydroponics by reading Dutch buckets for indoor vegetables
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