Winter Tomatoes
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“Winter Tomatoes,” Ensign, Sept. 1982, 50–51

Winter Tomatoes

With a little care and planning, you can be picking tomatoes in February from your own indoor “garden.” Here is the procedure:

1. Select a location with plenty of sunshine. Tomatoes need direct sun, not just light.

2. Choose pots with good drainage. (The number of pots will be determined by the tomato crop you want to harvest.) Your tomato plant will grow bigger in a large pot, but even a pot as small as eight inches in diameter is satisfactory.

3. Purchase commercial potting soil, or make your own potting soil by mixing one-third each of garden soil, peat moss, and sand. Remember that if your soil is not sterilized, it may have weed seeds, insect eggs, or other impurities that could cause problems. Soil can be sterilized by baking it at a temperature of 150 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. Start a tomato plant from seed or from a cutting. Choose a cherry tomato variety especially developed to grow in pots.

To start from seed: Plant several seeds in moist potting soil in a large pot, or in small pots to be transplanted later. Keep moist. Temperature should be between 60 and 80 degrees. Normal germination time is seven to fourteen days. For faster germination, cover the pot with plastic and keep in a dark place; no watering will be necessary. As soon as seedlings emerge, bring the plants to the light and remove the plastic. If seedlings are left in the dark, they will die when moved to the light. Seeds can germinate in three or four days, so watch carefully. The first leaves that emerge are seed leaves. When the next two leaves, the true leaves, emerge and when the plants seem healthy and well-established, select the best one for your permanent pot and remove all the others. Don’t try to grow more than one tomato plant in one pot.

To start from a cutting: Select several healthy stems from a garden cherry-tomato plant. Cut back most of the leaves, leaving only two or three small ones. Remove any blossoms or small fruit. Dust the stem with commercial rooting preparation and place directly in moist potting soil. Keep the soil moist and the plants in a light place, but not in direct sunlight. After a couple of weeks, when plants are well established, select the healthiest one and gradually move to a sunny location.

Plants started from a cutting will produce fruit much earlier than those started from seed.

5. Give your tomato plant consistent care. Tomatoes in pots soon use up all the water and soil nutrients, so water regularly and add water-soluble fertilizer every two or three weeks. Watch carefully to make sure the drainage holes in the pot do not get plugged. You can usually determine when and how much fertilizer to give by watching the color of the leaves. Pale, slightly yellow leaves are a sign that either your plants need more fertilizer, more sunshine, or that you are watering them too much. Very dark green leaves that tend to curl a little indicate too much fertilizer. Compensate for this by frequent watering. Fairly dark green leaves and a healthy-looking plant show that you are doing everything just right!

Your tomato will need staking. While the plant is still small, push one end of a twelve- to twenty-four-inch-long stick into the soil three or four inches deep and about one inch from the plant. As the plant grows, tie the stem loosely to the stake, using ribbon or cloth rather than string. If your plant is growing bigger than you want it to grow, pinch off the top growing tips. This will also help to produce earlier fruit.

The result: If you start your tomatoes in September, you should be eating tasty cherry tomatoes by February! In fact, you can work this procedure throughout the year. Kathleen Hedberg, Burley, Idaho

Photography by Jed A. Clark