4 November 2008

Growing tomatoes from seed

I picked a swag of tomatoes the other day. They're still green, a few are starting to turn red, but basically they're green tomatoes. That is how I always pick my tomatoes and I believe it makes no difference to ripen them on the vine. Over the years, those that have ripened in the garden have had the same taste as those ripened in the kitchen.

I pick them green to encourage new flowers to form, and therefore increase the yield. We also have a variety of insect pests here and picking green takes the temptation of a juicy ripe tomato away. Picking green gives us more tomatoes. In a perfect world tomatoes would ripen on the vine but my world is far from perfect, so green tomatoes it is. I have to say that I love seeing ripening tomatoes in the kitchen. It gives me the sense that things are growing well, even if they're not.

But lets get back to the beginning and talk about planting tomatoes. While there are many different ways to get the best from those seeds you have, this is how I grow tomatoes.

Prepare a clean and sterilised single cell tray or single small pots. They can be sterilised for this purpose by soaking clean pots or trays in a bucket of water to which a tablespoon of liquid bleach has been added. Allow to soak overnight or for a couple of hours. Rinse under clean water and allow to drain. Fill the trays or pots with a good potting mix, place one seed in each cell or pot and cover with fine seed raising mix. Water gently with a spray bottle or very fine hose spray. Don't let the water be too forceful or it will dislodge the seeds. Set in a protected area out of the sun and water every day.

When the seedlings are about 8 to 10 cm or 3 or 4 inches tall, transfer to a slightly larger pot. Transplant each plant to a new pot but instead of planting up to the level it grew in the previous pot, bury it deeper. Remove the lower leaves and plant a bit deeper than that level. New roots will come from the node you removed the leaves from and you'll have a stronger plant. Place these plants in a sheltered but sunny spot and continue to water them. Being in the sun will allow them to toughen up a bit before being planted in the garden. When you see signs of new growth, it's time to plant them in the garden.

Don't plant your tomatoes where tomatoes, chillies, eggplants or potatoes have been growing in the previous couple of years. This will encourage wilt disease. Prepare your garden bed about two weeks before you plant. Tomatoes like a rich soil so add lots of compost, a little blood and bone or other organic fertiliser and a sprinkle of potash in each plant hole. Be careful not to add to much nitrogen to your bed as that will make the tomato form a lot of green leaves at the expense of the tomatoes. Water this bed well and keep it slightly moist until you plant.

Most tomatoes need some form of growing support so before you plant your tomatoes, select enough stakes for every plant you have and hammer them into the garden - spaced far enough apart so each plant can grow well without touching the next plant. If you live in a humid climate, this is particularly important. You want good air flow around your plants. Once you have your stakes in, plant out your seedlings, again removing the lower leaves and placing them lower than they were growing in the pot. Water in well using a weak solution of seaweed extract, making sure you don't water the foliage. Your aim here is to increase the amount of root on each plant. The more roots you have the better your tomato will grow. Most plants will not have to be tied up at this point. Let them settle in for a week or so and then tie them to their stake.

If you have any soil diseases, you will increase the likelihood of your tomatoes being infected if you water in a way that splashes soil onto the lower leaves. If you have to cut off the lower leaves to avoid this, do it. Consistent watering is essential if you are to avoid Blossom End Rot. This is a calcium deficiency brought on by inconsistent watering that stops the plant drawing necessary calcium from the soil.

Once your tomatoes are planted and watered, mulch heavily with straw and mound the mulch up around the stem of the plant. It is fine to do this and it will encourage more roots to grow from the stem into the mulch. Then it's just a matter of time. If you've added potash to the planting holes, it will encourage flowers to form. Keep watering according to your climate, making sure the plants are well hydrated. For example, we water here every second day. It is better to water deeply to encourage the roots to go deep rather than watering every day which will keep the roots closer to the surface. Once every two weeks, apply a weak solution of seaweed. If you notice the plants aren't growing well, apply a weak solution of an organic nitrogen fertiliser. But if you've planted in a well prepared bed, this probably won't be necessary.

When you tomatoes start growing, look at them every day. You'll probably be watching for the heliothis grub - photo here and birds. If you notice a few grubs it's best to just pick those fruit off and kill the grub. If you know you will have a lot of grubs, you can spray with a bio spray called Dipel. I rarely spray for anything, preferring instead to closely observe what is happening in the garden and removing the offenders early by hand.

As I stated earlier, it's okay to pick green tomatoes, they will riped on your kitchen bench or in a bowl on the kitchen table.

If you want to save seeds for your next crop. Choose the best tomato from lower down on the bush. You want to choose the best fruit because they will be the qualities you will pass on to the next crop. Pick the tomato and let it sit in the shade until it is overripe. Cut the tomato in two and scoop out the seeds with a clean spoon. Place the seeds in a clean glass with three tablespoons of water added. You need the seeds to ferment, so place the glass in a warm window sill and let them sit for a week. You'll notice scum forming when the seeds ferment. That is good. When you're sure the seeds have fermented, pour them into a strainer and wash them thoroughly but gently, removing the flesh surrounding the seeds. Then place on a paper towel or newspaper and allow to dry thoroughly. When they're completely dry - after a day or so, store them in a sealed and labelled container.

And that is how I grow tomatoes - a very important crop here in my home. If you eat a lot of tomatoes and you only have room for one or two plants, let those plants be tomatoes because home grown tomatoes are entirely different to store bought ones.



  1. Great post. I had an abundance of tomatoes last year, but I've neglected my veggie patch this year and will have to play 'catch up'. (I still made sure I planted my tomatoes by the Melbourne Cup Day!!)
    I'll be saving this post to my favourites. Lots of useful info here. Thanks.

  2. Thank you rhonda I have actually printed this post out adn put it in my garden journal, Picking them gree will stop whatever is eating them eating them so off to the garden i go to rescue my few tomoatoes!!!


  3. Give Fried Green Tomatoes a try, while you still have those tart lovelies unripened. Flour or cornmeal, a bit of egg, salt, and pepper, and you have a tear-jerking piece of southern American soul right in your pan. The dream of this treat is what keeps me checking my tomatoes, daily, for fruit.

  4. Thanks for this post, Tomatoes rarely ripen outside for me and I've givne up in the past few years. I do want to get started again and as our new house will have a southfacing leanto 'sun room cum solar store' I have the perfect place for windowsill ripening.

    Out of interest do you still get a few that don't ripen at all? and what do you do with the green ones? I'd like to try green tomato chutney but havn't found a good recipie yet.

  5. Hi everyone. Kelly, I love fried green tomatoes. Summermeg, I've never had a good tomato that didn't ripen. Some of the diseased ones don't but they have more problems than just not ripening. Some take longer than others, but all will eventually ripen if left.

  6. Thanks for this, Rhonda: I'm going to give tomatoes a go for the first time(first time veggie gardening at all).I bought some seedlings from the local Steiner school fair over the weekend so they might even be biodynamic. I cut out Peter Cundall's guide to tomato growing in Sunday's paper too and he said that tomatoes ripened indoors are actually tastier than vine ripened ones.I'm just looking forward to a tomato that tastes like a tomato.

  7. Thank you Rhonda I never knew that you could pick really green tomatoes and they will ripen just as well as vine ripened.

  8. Thanks for this helpful post Rhonda. Now the question is - how do you know when it is okay to pick them if they are still green? Do you go by size? Also, me being the lazy gardener I am, is it possible to just plant the seed in a bigger container first so you don't have to transplant twice? Cheers, Karen D.

  9. thanks for sharing this info. appreciate it.
    hope you have a terrific week.

  10. Rhonda, thanks for all this valuable advice. I, too, will be saving this post to my favorites. Tomatoes are my first choice of plants to grow, because store-bought ones really taste like plastic around here, whether they are green or yellow or red. Interestingly, my husband says it wasn't so when he was a child.

  11. Thank you for going over tomatoes again! I am going to start again - 3rd time lucky....? I agree "let it be tomatoes" - home grown really smell and taste of sunshine and happiness!

  12. Thank you for another great post today Rhonda. I was about to give up trying to grow tomatoes again after very poor results in the past but you have inspired me to keep trying.I live on the northern end of the Gold Coast which shouldn't be too different to where you are so here's hoping!
    Love your Blog.

    Regards Patricia.

  13. This is my first time here Rhonda and how timely for me! I am in northern Arizona, picking my green tomatoes today. I will be saving my Heatwave tomato seeds and you told me everything I need to know. Great Post!


  14. I noticed in your post the other day how wonderfully healthy your tomatoes looked! Thank you for the lesson in growing them. I love your trellis! So beautiful as well as practical.

  15. When I pick our tomatoes green they don't ripen. Am I not giving them enough time? How long does it take a green tomatoe to ripen indoors? Where do you put them? Do they have to be in a window?

  16. Oh, how I love a good tomato! We've harvested the last of our large tomatoes but a few of the grape and cherry tomatoes are still popping up.

    We pick ours green, too. I grew up thinking that vine ripened were best but I've noticed no difference. Once cannot have vine ripened organic tomatoes in Georgia -- the bugs descend upon ripened tomatoes faster than I can pick them.

    Excellent post!



  17. Thank you so much for this post! I'm going to print it out and save it. I love the seed-saving advice too.
    Rachel from NZ

  18. I love the pics of the tomatoes growing on the trellis. Perhaps I should look into using a trellis next year. I had one grape tomato plant that had many vines well over 6 feet long. They grew up and over the shrubs and thru a small ornamental tree. Guess it was the perfect tomato spot. I plopped it into the front flower bed because I ran out of room in the raised bed and containers.

    Another note-has anyone seen on YouTube the NancyToday videos? She's a hoot. I wish I could be more aloof like that. Oh well, I'll work with what I have. Anyways, she has GREAT videos on breadmaking using just flour, water and yeast. I think there's 7videos in all starting with grinding the flour. I will be trying to make that bread here soon.

  19. Dearest Rhonda,
    As I sat down to read your latest post 4kg of tomatoes & onions is bubbling on the stove. I am making Tomato Relish. My grandmother was famous for it. I was feeling a bit sad as my grandmother passed away 3 weeks ago. So I thought I would indulge in making some relish. The smell reminds me of my beloved Nan. At the moment I don't have any tomatoes growing but I bought these ones for $1 a kilo. My jars have been boiled and are now drying in the oven, just waiting to be filled with the hot liquid. I just LOVE tomato relish!!
    Thankyou for sharing your wondeful wisdom.
    Take care & God bless

  20. thank you for a wonderful post. i have had tomatoes for a few years myself and i love it. However, i usually let the ripen on the vine, so much love sunripen tomatoes. Your information that you get more tomatoes when you pick them green was new to me. maybe i can do a bit of both then.. thank you and lots of delicious tomato moments :)

  21. I cam over via Jewels at Eyes of Wonder and am so glad I did. I have really enjoyed your blog.

  22. How do you know when the right time is to pick them when they are still green? Do you judge by the size?

  23. http://jewelryatalifeuncommon.blogspot.com/

    Help! My garden is being invaded. Organic help please, if any one can teach me the solve I know you can.

  24. What a wonderful post Rhonda. You have cemented a few thing I've read recently and added some wonderful new knowledge on seed saving. Thank you so much. I could have done better with my first 10 tomato plants but I just planted some fresh seeds last week and will follow your advice. It will be interesting to see the difference in performance.


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