Tangents and Tomatoes: How do you grow them indoors?

Tomato plants in buckets. Photo: http://ladybugsandbumblebees.wordpress.com/ This blogger made her buckets self-watering

Busy, busy, busy time here on the farm. All 350 or so tomato plants hit their peak this past week, just as the corn passed its prime. It has been juicing and saucing time here at the homestead with dozens of new quarts now gracing the long-term storage shelves. There are now so many jars of various items, we are storing some under our bed too! God bless the man (or woman) that invented bed-stilts and dust ruffles!

The green beans are ready too. In fact, they may be a little past prime, since other things took precedence. Mike plans to pick some today to can. Two bushels of unsold shiitakes are drying, or will be, in the dehydrator in the garage, as well. An additional two bushels or so of apples need to be prepped for drying or canning. I think I will do both when the dehydrator is available.

I had not been over to see the calves recently– until yesterday. I was amazed at their growth. Little Sam the Charolais grew tremendously and is almost the same size as the others now, which delights me. Horn** has filled out nicely and is less like skin and bones. Frick and Frack look mean, like bulls are supposed to and Hal the Holstein is now completely black and white.  Even the babies are growing well and it won’t be long before a couple will join the rest of the herd, since they are nearly the size Sam was a month ago. I think Spot (a Guernsey) will be one of those, since he now stands about hip-high and sports a nice boxey shape. A couple of the newer arrivals that I had not met, also Guernseys, are about the same size as Spot and just as sweet.

Seventy (his number) sniffed my hand and then let me pet him while he lay on his hay bed yesterday. He made no effort to move until distracted by the other babies. I love his white nose and there is something really sweet about a calf’s huge brown eyes and long eyelashes. You just want to hug them…if they’d let ya. Ha! Sixty-nine was even braver. He meandered over to me to sniff the purple blouse I was wearing. Don’t know how they know it, but apparently cows can see colors…except red. The little calf kind of proved that because the purple was the only thing that interested him.

Mike and I have been talking about the next step. Do we continue to purchase small feeder calves (basically paying a retail price) and raise them to about 1000 lbs to sell, or perhaps invest in bottle babies, which are cheaper but a riskier investment and a higher initial expense because of building costs? We are still discussing the options. One drawback, for me, is that in raising the bottle babies, we (as a couple) could never go anywhere overnight let alone take a vacation or a honeymoon. It would not be that much different than now and I am still struggling hard with this stuck-alone-on-a- farm routine. Then I feel guilty. We are blessed with the land, the garden, even the water availability. While the garden looks drought-struck right now due to little rainfall and high temperatures, there is still food and ways to grow it, if only in pots in the house. I need to get over my need to be around people.

Back in the days before I lived on the farm, I used to grow tomatoes, mushrooms, and peppers in my house. There was a certain satisfaction in plucking the food from the vine in the kitchen bay window to prepare for dinner and an even larger satisfaction when Christmas rolled around and my guests, first thinking I decorated my house plants with Christmas balls, realized they were ripening tomatoes.

I thought I would pass along my method for those who would like to try it.

I began by taking an 8X13 cake pan (that’s what I had) and filling it with good damp potting soil. I sprinkled a package of tomato (or bell pepper) seeds on the top and gently pressed the seeds onto the soil. I spritzed the top with water from a spray bottle, topped it with a small sheet of plexiglass and set the whole thing on top of my refrigerator. The heat from the fridge helped the seeds to send new roots downward into the soil and I kept the tray moist by spraying with water almost daily and retopping with the plexiglass to hold the moisture.

When the seeds sent our their first leaves, the ones that do not look like tomato leaves, I removed the plexiglass and kept spritzing it as needed to keep the soil moist. Some days that meant twice a day. I did not pour water into the tray. That would dislodge the soil and the seeds.

When they sent up their first real leaves, it was time to transplant and I moved several into small 4″ seed pots, returning them to the top of the fridge each time they were watered. Since the pots were clay and tended to absorb much of the water from the soil, I opted to water them from the base of the plant, pouring water into the pot “saucers”. In a few weeks the plants were large enough for another transplant, this time to 5 gallon buckets.

I prepared the buckets by drilling drain holes in the bottom, filling them partially with gravel and (believe it or not) packing peanuts, the a thick layer of potting soil. Too much gravel would have made it hard for me to move them, but tomatoes and peppers like deep roots. Few inexpensive plant pots are deep enough.

Tomatoes and peppers need warm temperatures and lots of light. In the winter, there is not enough time for natural daylight, though a heated home will usually suffice for temperature. I hung a lamp six inches or so over the plant and installed a grow-light bulb in it. That way, I could assure the plant 16-18 hours of artificial sunlight. I also used Miracle-Gro (though any water soluable fertilizer would work) mixed very weakly for the daily watering. It was not long before the plants began to flower.

Tomato and pepper plants are self-pollinating, but that doesn ‘t mean in a kitchen there is enough breeze to take care of that. You have to pollinate the plants yourself. It is not an elaborate or difficult procedure. The flowers hang like little bells on the stems, when one is in full bloom (that is, the flower petals  curl away from the center), simply flick them with your finger like you would flick a bug that landed on your shirt. That’s it!  If you were successful, you will know in about two days, because you will begin to see a tiny tomato (or pepper) form. Just keep watering, feeding, and flicking and in no time those little guys will be red and juicy and ready for dinner. One caveat: they will not be a large as those grown in the field. They just won’t. They are still tastey.

As  far as caging the tomatoes, that will depend on you. The cage should be installed on the bucket at the time the plant is first transplanted if you want a tidy upright plant. On the window sill, you don’t have to worry about ground moisture or insects eating the fruit before it ripens. Mine worked well tied to a bamboo rod, just to keep them a little upright rather than sprawling. The choice is yours.

In the house you should have no problems with insects, but if you feel the need, spray the individual fruits with a solution of dishwashing detergent, water and a small bit of cooking oil and that should take care of it. Wash the fruits, of course, before eating. The solution will not harm you, but who wants to taste Dawn in their salad?

I am off to do some more tomato sauce and to make lemon-yellow tomato juice from the yellow peach tomatoes. I will be back soon. Oh, while I think of it. Did you know that a tomato plant will last about five years if kept healthy? Something to think about…

About cattlebaroness

I am a graduate of the University of Kentucky with a BA in History, nearing completion of a Master of Arts in American history. Born and raised first on military bases around the world, then in Orange County, CA, I moved to Kentucky when my children were small. I now live on a small family farm and am learning about farm life, planting and our newest addition to the landscape--cattle. Until a month or two ago, all I knew about 'cows' were that they came in brown, black and white and that some are raised for milk and others for meat. I am a quick study out of necessity.
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