No perfect plants here. But what we can do at home is even better than perfect when you compare and contrast Tomato plants grown by you, the internet and the ones on sale in the garden centre. This is because when we engage in the process of growing a plant from seed to plate it has more meaning to us.
Life is hard. Free plants make it better.
Here is your non perfectionist practical Tomato growing guide for free Tomato plants that make good fruit.
Above: Reality on my kitchen table in 2022 with Tomato plants on left and Aloe plants on right. Plus some beans wafting about at the back.
Above: Internet Tomato plants. So uniform and green.
Above: Garden centre Tomato plant grown under artificial lights since February. This is on sale now.
The internet is always showing us perfect plants and perfect people. Here I want to show idealised internet images next to what I have actually grown NEXT to the same plant grown in the garden centre. So you can compare and contrast for yourself on 3 different layers of perception. 3 different layers of perception? what?
You might find that sentence a little trippy and pretentious and I'm not even offering you magic mushrooms! (just Tomatoes and the smug magic of growing your own)
The advantage of growing Tomato plants yourself from seeds?
They are free and I'll guide you through the process in this post.
The advantage of looking at Tomato plants on the internet?
None. as we all know, comparisons steal your joy.
But you might find crazy people writing interesting stuff in blogs about Tomato plants and that could be fun.
The advantage of buying Tomato plants in the garden centre?
All the hard work is done for you, basically you buy plants ready to fruit.
Plants are not acclimatised to your growing conditions and will collapse if suddenly planted outside their protective garden centre cocoons.
So here is the non perfectionist practical Tomato growing guide for free Tomato plants that make good fruit- and how to do it:
Welcome to Fensterbank farm! Your Berlin windowsill is a mini greenhouse. Make the best of it and grow some Tomatoes. Here is mine from ten minutes ago, not perfect but doing fine:
Above: Reality of Tomato plants. April 2023
So my Tomato plants are not huge and my photography skills are pretty basic. But it's worth growing your own Tomatoes from seed for free so here we go:
No 1: find a Tomato in the Supermarkt that you really like. A really ripe one with shiny skin and an over-blown glow. Buy it. This is all the cash you need to spend. And thats 89 cents for 20 Tomato plants. Sounds good to me. If its not really ripe leave it out on your windowsill until it is SO ripe.
No 2: Eat the Tomato. But before you do that take out the seeds with a teaspoon and spread them out on a dry paper towel or a clean dry micro-fibre cloth. Spread out the seeds in a thin layer. Put this paper towel or cloth somewhere dry and warm.
Above: Reality is messy
No 3: Leave this to dry for 2-3 weeks. Then scrape off the seeds or tear the paper towel into small pieces with the seeds still on the pieces of paper towel- you can plant the seeds with the paper still on. It's all good.
No 4: get some small containers. Yoghurt pots with holes made in the bottom are great. Make sure the container has drainage holes or the plants will get too soggy and rot. Put the seeds on the surface of compost and water them. Cover with a thin layer of compost.
Now here is the twist to ensure the seeds sprout- cover everything in a plastic bag.
No 5: Check the bag every couple of days. The seeds might sprout in as little as 2 days or as long as 2 weeks depending on the temperature. Warmer equals faster.
When the seeds start sprouting take off the plastic and put your Tomato farm on a sunny windowsill.
The plastic comes off now because the humidity that is beneficial to start the seeds growing is detrimental to the long term growth of the plants- the high humidity can cause mould on the new leaves.
Don't forget the Untersetzer! (what do you call your Untersetszer? plant coaster? unwanted saucer? lid of tupperware who has lost her other half?
it's just a thing to put underneath the pots to catch excess water.
No 6: thin out the seedlings to one plant per pot. This does as much good as feeding the plants a fertiliser because it cuts down on the sprouts fighting for root space with each other. They get more nutrition and less competition. They appreciate the extra leg room and grow strong,
Grow your Tomatoes indoors until the 15th of May when the danger of frost is over. After that you can move them outside after hardening off (the process of putting your plants outside in the day and taking them in at night over 4 or 5 days that helps plants acclimatise to a new temperature)
now is the perfect time to start sowing Tomato seeds in Berlin, maybe even a little late.
If you start too early the plants will remain in their first small pots too long and get stunted. If you start too late they won't have time to ripen fruit before Autumn arrives.
This is the golden window of Tomato opportunity. (I can't think of a sassy pun on that. It's in there somewhere find it yourself)
Above: Planting: what the internet shows
No 7: Plant into big pots on your balcony after 15th May. Or into the veg bed if you have a garden. Big pots with good peat free (Torf frei) compost are the best. You can plant your Tomato plants deeper than the level of their stems in their O.G pots. You can bury the stems deeper so that the soil covers half the length between the stalk and the first leaves.
This is because Tomatoes are one of the few crops that can sprout roots from their stalks. Doing this deeper planting equals more roots which will grow sturdier plants that can feed themselves more compost goodness and keep themselves steady in unexpected Berlin weather.
Above: Planting: the reality. Yes this is me.
Most plants do not respond well to this deep planting treatment but Tomatoes and Potatoes are an exception. Since they are from the same family (nightshade family) this might just be a Solanum thing.
Above: Fruit: the internet
So here is the method, and what is the reality of my own experience here? well, it's not the Tomatoes above. It's not perfect but you can see from the photo below that I get results.
Above: Reality: My fruit: my Fensterbank, my reality. My terrible photography. July 2022.
A note on your baby Tomato plants: It is normal at this time of year for your plants to be on the small side compared to the ones in the garden centre as the ones in the garden centre will have been grown since February under artificial lights.
So be proud of what you can do on your windowsill- it takes a bit longer for the plants to size-up but they will be healthy and strong and if sown now they will be ready to eat by July and keep making you new fruits until September.
Enjoy.No question mark needed.