By Bonnie L. Grant
Tomatoes are a warm season crop that dies back when cold temperatures threaten. This usually means no home-grown tomatoes in winter, unless you have a greenhouse. You can, however, grow tomatoes indoors, but they are usually smaller and produce less prolifically than their summer cousins. Choose appropriate varieties when growing indoor tomatoes and learn the tips on how to grow tomatoes indoors. Then that fresh, sweet flavor can be yours all winter long.
How to Grow Tomatoes Indoors
Tomatoes need full sun and at least eight hours of light to produce any fruit. Temperatures should be in the range of 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 C.) or more indoors.
Use unglazed pots that will “breathe” and that have good drainage holes when growing indoor tomatoes.
One way to preserve your summer tomatoes is to bring them inside at the end of summer. You may be able to save the tomato plants over winter for a period. Older plants will gradually stop producing, so you can’t save them forever, but you can extend the harvest.
For an endless harvest all season long, try growing indoor tomatoes in successive batches. Start seeds every two weeks for a season long supply of producing plants.
Starting Winter Growing Tomatoes
Sow tomato seeds inside in seed starter mix. Plant them ¼ inch deep in 6 inch pots. Keep the soil lightly moist and in a warm location to germinate. The top of the refrigerator is ideal. Start a new pot of seeds every two weeks for a constant supply of tomato plants over winter and into early spring.
Once germination occurs in five to ten days, move the pots to a brightly lit area, near a southern window. Be sure the window isn’t drafty and interior temperatures are 65 degrees F. (18 C.) or more.
Flowering will be promoted by warmer temperatures and best growth is from 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (24-29 C.) . Transplant them to bigger pots when seedlings are 3 inches tall. Begin fertilizing every two weeks.
Flowers and Fruit on Growing Indoor Tomatoes
The absence of pollinating insects can be a problem when growing indoor tomatoes, so hand pollinating is helpful. Tap the stems lightly when flowers bloom to spread pollen. You may also use a cotton swab and insert it into each flower to help them along.
Turn your plant frequently so each side gets adequate sun and flower and fruit production is even. Stake the plant as needed to prevent the fruit from dragging and breaking the limbs. Winter growing tomatoes will produce in about the same time as their outdoor counterparts.
Best Tomatoes to Grow Indoors
You will have the most success at growing indoor tomatoes if you choose varieties that perform better inside. You need smaller varieties that will have room in indoor settings. Small upright varieties are ideal.
Suitable varieties to try include:
- Red Robin
- Tiny Tim
- Toy Boy
- Florida Petite
There are also hanging cultivars that will create dramatic arching plants filled with fruit. Yellow Pear is a golden tomato hanging form and Burpee Basket King is a trailing variety with small red fruits.
Look at size, fruit type, growth habit and ability to set fruit in cooler temperatures. Red Robin has that ability and is one of the best tomatoes to grow indoors.