Garden Coach on Growing Your Own Tomatoes All WinterJanuary 15, 2008
Wonder if growing tomatoes indoors in winter really is possible?
So can we all agree that the tomatoes from the grocery store, especially in winter, just don’t live up to our expectation of what a tomato should be? If you agree, read on.
I’ve always wondered if it were possible to keep annual vegetables going indoors, in the dreary, sunless Seattle winter. This fall I met a gardener at my local farmer’s market who promised me his tomatoes would grow and produce fruit all winter if cared for properly. So, the gardening experimenter in me had to give it a try. I bought one of his sand-mix planted determinant tomato plants for less than $20. When I bought the tomato plant in September, it was already blooming and had small fruit forming on it. Honestly, I figured I’d get a few tomatoes and end up with a leggy mess if my cat didn’t eat the plant. Well, I was wrong.
Twinky the cat left the plant alone. He didn’t even try to taste it. And, the plant produced and ripened fruit nicely all winter. During the shortest, darkest days, the internodes became quite long (read: it got leggy), but it kept blooming and fruiting. Some of the fruit was tiny, smaller than an M&M. But, some was quite robust.
The grower said I needed to use his special worm tea to keep the plant going, but I declined to purchase it. I’m not a fan of bottled compost teas, but that’s another topic for another post sometime. The grower also suggested that after the plant stopped flowering and fruiting that I cut it back hard, down to the last couple of nodes. He expected that would happen by early winter. Well, it hasn’t happened, and it doesn’t look like it will happen.
Truly, this is a spectacular cultivar. All I have given it is water and lots of sunlight and a few trims to clean off dead foliage, which opened the plant up to more air and light circulation. It is receives sunlight from sunrise until sunset in a south facing window. It gets some indirect bottom heat from a nearby furnace vent. I have given it no fertilizer at all.
Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of the cultivar, but I will find out next time I see the grower. As well, I’m thinking of taking cuttings to see if I can root this plant to create starts, which is a novel way for me to get my tomato plants going. Next winter I may purchase several. Although this plant has produced fruit, it doesn’t create a lot of fruit, so more plants would be a good idea. Also, the plant retained its distinctive summery foliage scent for months. Now that scent is waning. However, the fruit tastes just like you’d hope — like a little bit of summer sunshine!
And yes, the photo above is of my tomato plant with ripening fruit. The photo, as you may be able to tell, was taken on a snowy mid-January day. Now that I have the picture, I may eat the fruit!