The tomato was the pride of the Old World, exported across the globe, along with pasta it changed Italian cuisine, took a place of pride in salads and help create the Heinz empire. There is a reason tomatoes took off the way they did across cultures and culinary traditions. Tomatoes are remarkably easy to grow, reasonably forgiving if you forget to water, and reach maturity in only around two to three months.
My windowsill tomatoes on a sunny day. Photo by Olga Oksman/Lifehacker.
And you don't need to look any further for the right tomato seeds than the sandwich you're eating or the salad you're making. So wow your friends and family with your amazing tomato facts. Then wow them with your amazing homegrown tomatoes.
1. Pick Your Tomato
Evaluate your growing environment. Do you live in a city with nothing but a windowsill and an oversized terra cotta pot for a garden, or are you in possession of an actual plot of land? Tomato plants vary in size, and naturally the ones that support larger tomatoes also generally tend to grow bigger than the cherry tomato variety.
If you're growing them on your windowsill, cherry tomatoes may be the way to go. These days you can get a variety of tiny tomatoes at the grocery store, so pick your colour, size and taste. Depending on where you live, you probably want to plant your tomatoes in late spring or early summer, when the weather is consistently warm and there is no frost.
If you are growing on the windowsill at home, that means you don't have to wait for a specific season as long as your home is nice and toasty through the winter.
2. Plant Your Tomato
Put a handful of orchid bark or pebbles at the bottom of a seed pot for drainage, fill it with general purpose soil and you're ready to go. Be sure to only use a pot that has a drainage hole. Then simply bite into your juicy little tomato, scoop out a few seeds and push them into the pot with your finger a few centimetres apart from each other until they're covered with soil. Keep the soil moist and wait for the seeds to sprout.
3. Growing Your Tomato
Once your seeds have sprouted and pushed tiny little green leaves towards the surface, make sure you keep your pot on a windowsill that gets plenty of sunlight throughout the day. Tomatoes grow remarkably fast and you will see your tiny plants push up noticeably higher practically every day, which is incredibly satisfying to watch.
You will probably also notice little white hairs along the stem as the tomato grows. These little hairs can develop into roots, helping the tomato grow stronger. When your little tomato plants are a few inches tall and growing plenty of leaves, it is time to transplant them into a pot big enough to support their adult size.
Pick a pot that has a drainage hole and that is 45cm to 60cm in diameter, fill with drainage materials and soil, and bury the tomato stems when replanting, covering most of the fuzzy white hairs. It might look funny to bury part of the stem, but it will allow the fuzzy hairs to develop into roots, giving the plants a firmer support and better ability to seek out and suck up moisture, which is an added bonus if you sometimes forget to water.
Make sure the tomato has plenty of food to grow fast by giving it fertiliser. There is an astounding number of commercial fertilisers geared specifically towards tomatoes, so take your pick and use according to the instructions on the box.
When it comes to water, tomatoes love it and suck it up at a remarkable pace so water generously to keep the soil moist and ensure that water reaches the bottom of the roots. If you are unsure if the plant needs water, push your finger into the top of the soil in your pot till about the first knuckle; if it feels dry, it's time to water again. If you forget to water once too often, your tomato will droop dramatically, but not to worry, all is not lost and a good watering will perk it right back up.
4. Keeping Your Tomato Plant Upright
Tomatoes can't really support their own fruit and tend to grow along the ground. To keep them upright you can get a tomato cage online or at most gardening or hardware stores. Place the cage over the plant, pushing down into your pot when the tomato is still relatively small and has not yet developed fruit.
That will give it a chance to grow inside the cage. After about a month to two and a half months, depending on the variety, your tomato will develop little flowers, which will eventually grow into your tomatoes. As the tomatoes grow and weigh down the vines, you might need to help the plant lean on the tomato cage or wrap around it better to support the fruit.
5. Enjoy and Show Off
It might not be scientific, but tomatoes you grow yourself just taste better. There is something about picking them off the vine and popping them into your mouth knowing that you nurtured them that just makes them juicer and sweeter. Pick the little tomatoes as they get ripe, which will allow the plant to devote more resources to the tomatoes that are still developing.
And as an added bonus, while you are waiting for your homegrown harvest, they make for a wonderful ornamental plant. When tomatoes first made it to Europe, they were actually grown as a decorative plant, so enjoy the bright colours and cheerful foliage on your windowsill.