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Friday, December 17, 2010

A Glimpse at Growing Tomatoes Indoors

Well, I decided I want to grow tomatoes indoors. Not seedlings but full plants. I am beginning my search for information. I thought I would share this entry from Jasons-indoor-guide-to-organic-and-hydroponics-gardening.

The above link has great pictures regarding pollination. First thing to keep in mind is forcing flowers. I did not know that would be an issue. Second thing to keep in mind if finding an electronic vibrating bee. Read below. Very interesting.

Back to my search. I think it would be great to have some cherry tomato plants in the house. I wonder if there are self pollinating tomato varieties?

The linked entry below: (Just the words, I could not copy the pictures)

Learning how to grow tomatoes indoors can be very rewarding. My own organically grown produce always tastes better than the store bought. My mouth waters thinking about my next fresh tomato salsa or the smell of a garlicky homemade spaghetti sauce simmering. Mmmm, let's get started!

For an indoor garden, you will want to choose a crack resistant variety. Not only will these tomatoes do better indoors under lights, but these varieties also tend to be the better sauce/paste tomatoes.

Seed Starting Soil Mix

The first step to learning how to grow tomatoes is preparing a good starting soil mix. The mix I always use is a standard potting soil mix with about 10% worm castings added. Standard potting soil is usually equal parts perlite, vermiculite, and sphagnum peat and is adjusted to the right Ph by adding 1 teaspoon of hydrated lime for every gallon of soil mix. I actually like to Ph adjust my mix this way for tomatoes because the lime is a good source of calcium, which prevents blossom end rot in tomatoes later on.

I moisten the initial mix little by little, using plain water and Thrive Alive B1. The mix is just right when you squeeze a handful and get a few drops out of it... but only a few. If you mix it a little too wet, just add a little dry vermiculite and remix.
Starting your Tomato Seeds

Starting seeds is always a delicate part of growing anything, and learning how to grow tomatoes is no different. Start with a regular nursery tray full of your soil mix. Tomato seeds should be planted 1/4 inch deep, and about 8 seeds/inch. You may want to cover them for the first few days to keep them from drying out.

Tomato seeds germinate best at 80 degrees, and should be mostly up in 5 to 12 days. Remove any cover you may have on them as soon as they begin popping up. The fresh sprouts should be kept 4 to 6 inches under fluorescent lighting. The light should be kept on 18 to 24 hours a day. When they are 1 1/2 inches tall, carefully transplant them into their own 6 inch containers.

Tomato Plant Care

The easiest step of how to grow tomatoes. Keep them under 2 or 3 fluorescent lights that you leave on 18 to 24 hours every day. I usually feed them Maxsea 16-16-16 at this point, although they could probably use even more nitrogen (the first number). The strength of the solution is about 600 ppm, which is 1 rounded teaspoon of Maxsea/gallon. I also add 10 ml/gallon Thrive Alive B1.

The ideal temperatures for growth are 70-75 degrees during the day and 65-67 degrees at night. When the plants reach 12 inches or more, they may need transplanting to one gallon containers. After 6 weeks or 8 weeks, your plants should be just about ready to begin fruiting them.

Begin Flowering your Tomatoes

Flowering is one of the trickiest parts of how to grow tomatoes indoors. You will need to be familiar with how to force flowering in plants. Some tomatoes flower in 60 days and others take up to 80 days, beginning from the time you force flowering. Just as you begin this process, you want to make your final transplant into 3 gallon containers.

For the first two weeks, you want to feed them heavy with a 10-52-70 or similar fertilizer. Each time they need water give them food also at 800 ppm, which would be a little over half of the recommended "full strength" on the directions. Keep in mind you are feeding them each time you water them. For the rest of the season, feed them 16-16-16 or similar at 800ppm.

Tomato Flower Pollination

If flowering is the trickiest part of how to grow tomatoes, than pollination must be the trickiest part of flowering. As soon as flowers develop and begin to open, you must pollinate everyday while it is warm and humid. Ideally, the humidity will be 65 to 70 percent. Greenhouse growers usually do this between 11:30am and 12:30pm (basically noon) when these conditions occur naturally. For them, early and late day pollination often will not produce proper crops.

This is a tomato flower. Part A is the male anthers that will drop the pollen. Part B is the female carpels that will catch the pollen. The little red arrow is where it all takes place.

Most male anthers produce their pollen on the outsides of the anthers, making it easy to release pollen into the wind for pollination. In the tomato plant, however, pollen is produced internally, as if trapped in a straw. This is the biggest problem for tomato pollination.

The plant needs vibration at the right frequency, such as the buzzing of a bees wings, to dislodge and release the pollen. The best way I have found to do this is to take an electric toothbrush to each support truss and main branch. The more pollen to successfully fertilize the plant, the more seeds will be produced in the fruit (and therefore the meatier the tomato will be).

Final Indoor Tips

Just some final ideas for you on how to grow tomatoes. Flowering plants need stronger light to grow properly developed fruit. Check out high pressure sodium lighting tips if you have any doubts. Also, always use a little lime in the transplant soil to prevent blossom end rot. A dose of Cal-Mag once your tomatoes have fruit set would not be a bad idea. Finally, the vines that grow from leaf axials are called suckers, and should be prunned off throughout flowering. They suck up food that would normally be used to grow nice tomatoes. In 60 to 80 days you should be enjoying some homemade spaghetti sauce yourself!