You can start window-sill salads that last all winter by moving a tomato branch in a pot into your indoor garden. Just pot up one or more small stocky tomato plants this fall, bring them indoors to grow and bear all winter and spring. Anyone with a properly mulched, weedless garden can obtain a stocky plant by cutting a branch off a bearing tomato plant, placing it in a container of water, and leaving it till roots appear, which takes about a week. Or a branch still attached to the plant can be placed on the ground, with soil over a 3-inch section, and left for 10-days. After roots grow, the branch can be cut from the larger plant and potted in a mixture of half compost and half garden soil. I leave my potted tomatoes out in the garden for a few days, then bring them in on a warm day. It is best to have them indoors for a week before the heat is turned on.
I keep my tomatoes in a south window with flowering plants. They usually start blossoming in November and continue to bloom and bear tomatoes during the winter and spring. I fed my plants with a diluted mix of liquid fish and seaweed every 12-days, but they do not regain their normal vigor till I open the inside south window leaving only a ventilated storm window between the plants and the winter weather.
I've also discovered that the uninvited insect is the whitefly, the bane of most indoor tomato growers. There's a plant that repels this pest, though, and that's a good way to control it from the start. The plant is popularly called the shoofly plant or Peruvian ground cherry. A few kept in the house or greenhouse will dispel any whitefly infestation and discourage several other insects, too.
Blossoming and bearing tomatoes are heavy feeders. Mine require bone meal, mixed in near the surface of the soil during February and March. I water them with compost-tea. Before they become too ungainly to move, I put them in the sink and shower them once a week.
When they show a tendency to grow too tall, I pinch the new growth or prune the plants. It's wise to remember that as house plants their roots systems are quite limited compared to growth made in the outdoor garden. To compensate for this, the tops should be pruned; by balancing stem and leaf growth, setting of fruit is encouraged and heavier bearing results. As the fruit becomes heavier the plants need support. I tie them to a stake.
As for hand-polling, simply tapping the plants firmly so that the pollen scatters is generally enough. Do this several times as new blossoms appear.
My indoor grown tomatoes do not bear very heavily, but the fruit is firm and have a good flavor and deep color, quite a contrast to the pale, tasteless tomatoes sold in the winter markets. I pot Vinigina Lady's (the vitamin C is double that of standard varieties) and sometimes Red Cherry, also high in Vitamin C. Because of their delicious flavor, both are excellent in salads, and the attractive fruit of Red Cherry enhances the beauty of any fruit bowl. Cheerful yellow flowers, bright red tomatoes, and the green foliage of window plants show strikingly against the cold skies just beyond the window.
In late spring the plants can be returned to the garden, easily giving you the earliest tomatoes in the neighborhood. More vigorous plants, however, will result if branches are cut off to root in water. You then have a head start on your summer garden and do not have to sow or buy many new plants, if any. Peppers, too, can be indoor-container-grown through the fall and winter
Copyright · 1996