Who does not love biting into red, juicy, delicious tomatoes!? Growing your own plants offer you the chance to always have fresh, more flavorful veggies on your dinner table. Luckily, you can skip the next trip to the gardening store and raise your plants from the tomatoes in your shopping bag!
Can you grow tomatoes from supermarket tomatoes? It is possible to grow tomato plants from supermarket tomatoes, but the variety you pick and environment conditions are essential factors that can influence your chances of success. Harvesting tomato seeds and planting them are easy tasks. However, ensure to pick heirloom tomatoes, which are more suitable for breeding.
This article will cover the ABCs of growing your tomatoes, but you should know that there is much more to it than just picking the right type. Check out this step-by-step guide, and you will be sinking your teeth in your home-grown tomatoes in no time!
How to Grow Tomatoes at Home From Seeds
Tomatoes are easy to grow and care for, and, best of all, give great satisfaction even to first-time gardeners! The necessary steps of cultivating your plants at home from store-bought tomatoes are:
- Harvest the seeds
- Ferment the seeds in a jar with water
- Wash the seeds and move them into an indoor pot
- Move them into bigger containers as they germinate
- Transplant the plants outdoors
- Care for your plants by giving them enough light and fresh air
- Enjoy the fruits!
While this might seem a little too easy, there are some insights that you should consider before proceeding. In this article’s sections, you will learn everything you need to look after your seedlings until they bloom into full-grown plants. Let’s start by exploring what the best varieties for this task are!
Picking the right variety
Do the tomatoes in your local supermarket look all equally round and shiny? It is because they derive from F1 seeds. F1 hybrids, or Filial 1, are intentionally cross-pollinated plants. They tend to be more uniform, grow faster, or produce bigger plants. Cultivators design these hybrids to be more commercially suitable. Planting these seeds will produce plants and fruits different in taste and look from the tomatoes you bought. Moreover, they are genetically less stable, and you might have to pick new seeds every season. Instead, using open-pollinated and heirloom types allow you to have a more sustainable crop.
This choice also impacts the flavor of your future tomatoes. You might have noticed that common store-bought fruit and vegetables are flavorless and bland. Instead, find a non-hybrid variety that you are happy with and cultivate that specific one.
Materials and equipment
While even first-time gardeners won’t have too much trouble growing tomatoes from scratch, you might need to equip yourself with some necessary materials and tools.
- A rake and trowel
- Tomato cages – if you are cultivating multiple plants
- A pair of gardening gloves
- A fan – if there is no ventilation in the indoor environment
- Potting mix – to facilitate the growth of your plants while in containers
- Small containers featuring drainage holes – opt for biodegradables ones
- 4-inch pots – ensure that they have drainage holes
How to grow your tomato plant?
After harvesting the seeds of your chosen tomato variety, you are ready to ferment them. This fermentation process can take up to a week and can seem a non-essential time investment at first.
However, it yields enormous benefits that we are going to explore in the next section. After your seeds have fermented and are thoroughly clean, you can move them into a small biodegradable container and wait for the seedlings to sprout.
As soon as the external environment is suitable, you can transplant your baby plant outdoors, where it will keep growing. Depending on whether it is a determinate or indeterminate tomato variety, you can expect the fruits to appear all at once or spread throughout the summer.
How to Collect the Seed From the Tomato
Collecting the seeds from your store-bought tomatoes is one of the most easily manageable tasks of the process. You can notice that they already look similar to the ones in seed packets from the gardening shop.
Indeed, you will simply need to scoop them out of the tomatoes and pour them into a glass jar. Before doing so, make sure the fruit is clean, and you have cut out any damaged part.
Now that you have harvested the seeds, you can either dry them or ferment them. However, the second process will increase the chances of proper germination of your seeds. Here is what to know about this method!
Seeds fermentation can be a lengthy and smelly task. However, especially if you are a first-time gardener, it can make future jobs easier. The fermentation process mimics the natural procedure through which tomatoes breed. In natural environments, you can see that tomatoes that have fallen from the plant will become moldy if left on the ground. Then, they will give life to new tomato plants through naturally-occurring fermentation from the soil.
While some gardeners don’t consider this step necessary, it can increase the chances of survival of your seeds as it eliminates seed-borne diseases. At the same time, this process helps to get rid of inhibitors of germination, such as the viscous substance that envelops the seeds.
To ferment your seeds:
- Start by pouring the seeds you scooped out of the tomato into a glass jar
- Add two tablespoons of water if they seem too dry
- Seal the jar with clingfilm
- With a knife, create small holes through the clingfilm to allow air circulation
- Keep the pot away shielded direct sunlight and in a warm place for up to a week
- You will notice a layer of mold forming on the surface of the seeds
- At the end of the week, open the container and discard as much of the mold as possible with a spoon
- Using a weak stream of running water, wash the seed thoroughly. The seeds will remain at the bottom of the container so you can let the water spill off the top of it.
- Drain the water and pour the seeds on a coffee filter to dry
- You are now ready to plant your seeds!
How to Plant the Seeds
If you have fermented your tomato seeds, they are now in their best shape and ready to turn into seedlings! To do so, start by preparing little biodegradable containers for them. If you need extra tips to pick the appropriate pots, check the next section of this article!
As they start to sprout, once the climate presents the right conditions, you can then move them into their final pot or crop. Let’s have a look at this process in detail.
Prepare the containers
Tomato seeds need moisture and warmth to thrive. Before moving them into pots, fill up the vases with damp potting soil by adding water into the mix and stir it until it compresses when squeezed. Ensure that it is not dripping water as too much moisture can spoil the seeds. Pour the blend into the containers, pressing it down slightly, so it settles at least one centimeter below the pot’s edge.
Potting the seeds
With your finger, create a hole with a diameter of around 6 millimeters in the soil. Sprinkle at least three or four seeds in the cavity and cover them with some more potting mix. Pat down the top of the surface so the seeds can settle in the soil. Spray the top of your container with water if it does not feel damp enough.
Keep the containers in a warm room and away from direct sunlight. Ensure that the soil has enough moisture by sprinkling it with water and keeping it covered with a plastic layer. The germination usually happens within seven to ten days from planting it. Wait until the seedlings are at least 6 cm tall (2.4 in) to proceed with the next step.
Transplanting it your plant in bigger pots
The tomato seedlings will be strong enough to survive transplantation in larger containers when they are between five and seven centimeters tall and show their first sets of leaves. To guarantee a smooth transition, prepare the new pots in advance by filling them with moist potting mix.
Follow similar steps to the ones you used when you first planted them to know what is the right level of moisture for your tomatoes. Move your seedlings into the new pot with care and plant them a little deeper than they were in their previous containers. Once settled, proceed to gently pat down the soil around the plant with your hands.
Pick the right environment condition to move your tomatoes outdoors
While some varieties are more suitable for colder climates, in general, tomato plants have a low tolerance to cold and frost. Especially during their seedling and germination phases, a drop in temperatures can be detrimental for your plant and even kill it.
Monitoring nighttime temperatures can give you an indication of the best time to move your plants outdoors. As temps are stable through the night (around 10 degrees, without drastic dips), you can start to prepare your tomato plants’ new home. In any case, the seedlings need to have grown to at least 20 centimeters (7.9 inches) and present branching before the transplant.
During this period, you can start hardening off your plant, which is a great strategy to increase its chances of survival. Bring it outdoors for short intervals at first, then increase the length and frequency of exposure to natural elements. The longer the adaptation period is, the more likely your seedling will be to grow into a healthy plant. You can repeat this process for up to 10 days before permanently moving the plant outdoors.
Moving your tomatoes outdoors
The last step of growing your vegetables is to move them outdoors in your garden or crop.
- Pick a spot that receives the sun for most of the day, ideally south-facing, and sheltered from the wind and other natural elements.
- Prepare the soil by digging a 30cm deep (11.8 in) hole and fill it with potting mix and compost, if you have any. Manure or wood ash can be just as helpful in this case.
- When planting your seedlings in the ground, pick a cloudy day for a smoother transition.
- Plant the tomatoes deeper compared to how they were in the containers and bury them up to the first set of leaves.
- If your garden is not as deep, you can opt to plant your tomatoes sideways. New branches and leaves will naturally grow towards the sun, and your plant will start developing upwards in a matter of days.
Now that your plants are all set in their new home, it is time to care for them to harvest the most delicious fruits in 40 to 50 days!
How Often Do You Water Your Tomato Plants?
Tomato plants are easy to grow and care for, but there are some things they can’t do without, such as air, sun, warmth, and water. Knowing when your plant needs water and correctly watering it are difficult skills to master. Additionally, their moisture requirements change depending on their age and life stage.
However, some core techniques are useful independently on whether you are caring for seedlings or a fully-grown plant.
- Use a slow but steady movement when watering your plants. This approach gives time to the water to penetrate through the soil instead of flowing off the pot, carrying away essential nutrients.
- Water your tomatoes regularly, but only if they need it. If the soil is damp enough and you add more water to it, you might be cutting the airflow around the roots and end up drowning your plant.
- Ideally, water your plants in the morning so that the higher daytime temperatures can dry the soil up during the day. If stagnating moisture lingers in the pot can expose your plant to diseases.
- Pour water around the stem or bottom of the plant, as this encourages the roots to spread, branch, and become stronger.
- During the hottest periods of the year, apply a layer of mulch around the bottom of your plant to regulate the levels of moisture and increase the soil’s nutritional value.
Getting the right amount and frequency of watering from the start can help your plant flourish and stay healthy. Here are the guidelines to follow to take the best care of your tomato plant throughout its life stages!
When they are seeds
Tomato seeds and seedlings are incredibly delicate, and overwatering them can drown them. Instead, as the fermentation process is over, move your seeds in a container filled with moist soil. Feel the potting mix with your hand: it should compress under your touch, but it should not drip water. After you insert the seeds in the mix, cover them with a plastic bag or dome to naturally regulate the internal moisture.
Through this strategy, you rarely need to add water to your seeds, as they will stay naturally hydrated through the internal condense. However, if you notice the soil drying out quickly, you can add some mist with a spray bottle. If there is too much water in the pots and your seeds are sitting in paddles, you should consider moving them to an area that benefits from a better airflow.
Once the seeds have germinated, remove the plastic cover to facilitate airflow. If you notice the soil drying quickly at this time, it means that your seedlings need more water and nutrients, and it is time to move them into a larger container.
When they are seedlings
Seedlings need an increased amount of water and, therefore, nutrients to survive and grow strong. However, once you have moved them into a larger container, the watering schedule and amount changes depending on many factors such as:
- The room’s humidity levels
- Amount of direct sunlight
- The age and size of the plant
Ultimately, you should feed water to your seedlings as they need it. Dry soil and drooping leaves are telltale signs that your seedlings need more water. Be mindful not to drown your delicate young plant!
When they are grown plants and ready to produce fruit
A lack of water in fruiting plants can lead to the rotting of the tomatoes’ bottoms. The blossom-end rot condition can also affect other fruits such as cucumbers and melons. While it is not a disease, it is the natural response of your plant to a lack of calcium, which it can source from water.
The right amount of water to feed your adult tomato plant depends on whether you have planted it in a container or the ground. Plants that permanently live in your garden or crop have the chance to extend their roots deeper into the ground.
This feature allows them to harvest the water and nutrients they need if you have not watered them correctly. Instead, newly-planted tomatoes with still-short roots, as well as container plants, depend entirely on external water sources.
On average, a tomato plant needs between 2.3 and 3.5 liters of water per week. However, you should not divide these values equally per day. Instead, check whether the soil around your tomato plant seems dry or too moist and adapt the daily amount to your plant’s needs.
What Type of Container to Use to Grow Tomatoes
As we have seen, your tomato plant will develop rapidly during the first months of its life. This growth calls for a series of different containers that can accommodate your plant’s roots as well as enough water. Before transplanting them into the ground, your tomatoes will have different nutritional requirements to keep in mind.
- Tomato seeds are comfortable into smaller pots, which should boast essential drainage holes near the bottom. This feature ensures that your delicate seeds don’t draw in water during this stage. If your choice is between plastic and clay pots, opt for the plastic ones. This material retains moisture better than clay and helps you keep the soil moist.
- As your seeds turn into seedlings, you should consider moving them into a medium-sized biodegradable pot. Fiber, peat, and paper pots are small enough to keep in the moisture but allow for a smoother transition to the external environment. Indeed, you won’t need to replace the container during transplantation as the strengthening roots of your plant will be able to perforate its walls.
- If you have moved multiple seedlings into a single pot, opt for larger containers and proceed to thin them to improve air and water circulation around the roots.
- If you prefer to keep your tomato plants in pots throughout their life, choose containers with a capacity of at least 10 to 20 gallons. Tomatoes plants kept in vases that are too small won’t be as productive or fruitful.
What Type of Fertilizers to Use to Grow Tomatoes
Especially in container-growth tomato plants, fertilizers represent an essential source of nutrients. When adding these substances into the soil or potting mix, be aware that the roots of your plant will rarely exceed 20 centimeters (7.9 inches). Moreover, you will need to adapt the type of fertilizer to the life stage of your tomato plant to supply it with the compounds it needs.
The majority of commercial fertilizers include phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium, in different percentages. These crucial compounds take care of the wellbeing and development of roots, fruits, foliage, and flowers. During each stage of its life, your plant will need each of these substances in different quantities.
While seeds don’t need any extra supplement, seedlings tend to mature very quickly, and fertilizers aid with this rapid development. During this stage, you should focus on feeding your plant, mainly potassium and nitrogen. Then, as your seedlings enter adulthood, and they are ready to flower and produce fruits, analyzing your plant can give you essential clues about the nutrients it needs.
Aside from the three major compounds that you can find in commercial fertilizers, you might consider supplying your plant with calcium, magnesium, boron, and zinc. While not vital, these additional elements can help your plant produce firmer tomatoes and maintain its green colors. In flowering plants, you can notice better blossoms.
How Much Sun or Light Do You Need?
Tomatoes thrive in warm climates, where they can receive enough sunlight per day. Slightly acidic yet fertile soil and fresh airflow can improve the quality and life expectancy of your plants. Limiting the amount of sun or moisture can cause your tomato plants to be less productive or more prone to diseases.
If you are moving your tomato plant in your garden, find a south-facing spot that offers shelter from the elements. Instead, a plant that lives permanently in a pot should be receiving direct sunlight, ideally outdoors, for 8 hours per day. This period does not necessarily have to be consecutive as tomato plants benefit equally from the morning and afternoon sun.
If you live in a climate zone characterized by scorching hot summers, you should consider moving your plants in the shade during the hottest hours of the day, which typically are between 12 and 2 pm. If you can’t move the pot due to its weight or size, you could consider planting sunflowers around your plant or using clothes to cover it.
It is also possible to grow tomato plants indoors, away from natural sunlight. However, you should meet all other soil, temperature, and ventilation needs. Moreover, the lighting in the room should meet specific color and intensity requirements. You might need to fit the room with compact fluorescent lights, or CFLs, with a temperature of 5000k to 6000k (8540.33°F to 10340.33°F). For best results, connect the lights to a timer.
As we have seen, tomato plants thrive when grown in moist soil and if exposed to light and fresh air. While you might have mastered all these factors, humidity levels might not be as easy to regulate. The ideal humidity percentage during the day for an indoor tomato plant should be 80 to 90 percent.
During the nighttime, these levels can decrease to 65 to 75 percent. These high values are necessary to fight the naturally-occurring transpiration process, which significantly reduces the amount of water in the plant’s body.
At the same time, excessive moisture in the air can drown the tomato plant by impeding transpiration altogether. These elements can cause your plant to overheat due to the lack of water circulation and replacement.
Tomato plants can give endless satisfaction to both expert gardeners and first-time cultivators. They are easy to grow from the seeds of a store-bought tomato and don’t need much care to thrive, flower, and produce the juiciest fruits.
However, when starting to grow your tomato plants from seeds, it is crucial to pick a variety that fits your space and climate requirements. After the seeds have fermented, the seedlings develop rapidly and can be moved either in a larger container or outdoors.
Provide your adult plant with at least 2 liters of water per day, 8 hours of direct sunlight, proper ventilation, and adequate nutrients to have fresh tomatoes on your table every summer.
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