Accidental Tomatoes in My Office

Back in January I introduced you to my office tomato, a mystery volunteer plant that I began nurturing for its delicious tomato leaf smell. Well, it looks like Mystery Tomato is about to offer up something else that is delicious — it’s making fruit!

Here is a photograph of my plant in the window it lives in, taken just this morning. The plant is over 2 feet tall now. I have steadily upgraded it into bigger pots as it has grown. It could have been taller, but I buried a large portion of the stem when I last upgraded it as a way to ensure a more stable root system. Its current pot is 9″ deep and 10″ wide at the top.

Surprisingly, the plant isn’t leggy. It’s growing in a south-facing window and it seems to be getting just enough light to keep it happy. Any less and I’d be concerned. One of the biggest challenges around growing tomatoes indoors through the winter is the lack of sunlight. For the most part, the sun isn’t bright enough and the days are too short. Tomatoes need a lot of sunlight to produce fruit. If you want to try growing your own, I’d recommend growing dwarf varieties that are less demanding and will fit underneath supplemental artificial lights. My plant is much too large for that so the most I can do is turn it regularly so that it receives an even amount of light on all sides, and hope for sunny days.

Other things I have been doing to nurture its growth:

  • Watering: I give it a big drink whenever the soil starts to dry. It’s been drying out faster since it started to flower — I’m watering it every other day now.
  • Fertilizing: When it was younger, I worked vermicompost (worm castings) and a very small amount of powdered fish meal into the soil whenever I repotted. I also fed it kelp meal now and again. Now that it’s blooming and flowering I’m going to lay off of the fish meal entirely (it’s too high in nitrogen) and give it kelp meal and a bit of vermicompost only.
  • Touch Therapy: I gently stroke the plant everyday. Touching and moving the leaves mimics the effect the wind would have on an outdoor plant. This helps it to grow stockier and sturdier, and I get to carry that delicious tomato leaf smell around with me in return.
  • Repotting: I’m not yet sure if it will need an upgrade as I am still uncertain about the variety. This is one of those instances where I wish I did a better job of documenting the varieties I grow. The fruit looks like it is developing a ribbed shape. This narrows the possibilities down to a few varieties, but the leaves have me baffled. They don’t look like the leaves of the plant that comes to mind. In the end it will be the size and colour of the mature fruit that solves the mystery. Here’s hoping that I can keep the plant healthy enough to produce mature fruit!

    Thankfully, the days are getting longer and brighter as we head into spring, so my chances are improving as the plant grows larger and more demanding.

  • Hand Pollinating: Since my plant is not outside where there are insects and the wind to help it pollinate, I’ve been doing the deed myself using a soft paintbrush. Everyday I gently rub the bristles around each open flower until every blossom has been touched more than once. It’s working. I haven’t lost a single blossom yet and there are five tomatoes developing as I write this.

    Other methods of hand-pollinating include: Gently flicking the flowers or shaking the plant, using a cotton swab, using one flower to swab the others, using your fingers, and using a toothbrush or an electric toothbrush (the vibration mimics the movement of a bee).

UPDATE: I’m posting update photos of the tomato’s progress to my flickr account. Click here.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

Subscribe to get weekly updates from Gayla

16 thoughts on “Accidental Tomatoes in My Office

  1. Incredible!!! I have tomato seedlings going right now, but nothing as impressive as that (given, they are significantly younger than yours), but the fruiting is truly a Toronto miracle.

  2. I love the touch therapy trick. Of course, it shouldn’t be a surprise at all that a massage helps, but I swear, the difference is huge (plus, your hands smell like tomatoes for the rest of the day). Does this work with any other plants?

  3. Oh my! I am in love with the idea of an office tomato plant (love the smell!). I have work from home, so this is great. Thanks for the idea! :)

  4. Beautiful! My god, I am so desperate to start growing something, I may just get excited if I see mold show up on a slice of bread. Please hurry Spring :)

  5. i am all the sudden inspired to try to grow tomato plants indoors during the winter. Also, regarding the electric toothbrush and bees, I was at a native pollinator seminar the other weekend and a PhD candidate told us that tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant will only release their pollen when they are vibrated as a specific frequency and that bumble bees happen to be able to produce that frequency.She lead me to believe that real live bumble bees were the ONLY way to pollinate a tomato, but obviously you have proven that is not the case. *shrug*

  6. I hope my outdoor container tomatoes do that well this summer! I have a tomato plant growing in an Aerogarden indoors right now. Lots of flowers, but no fruit. I may have to take a more aggressive pollination stance soon.

  7. I love this idea, because I love the smell of tomato plants too. But… tomatoes grown in cool weather are quite mealy. They need the heat & direct strong sunshine to develop that tomato-y goodness. I think this is really neat, but do let us know how it tastes!

  8. I was always led to believe that it was a waste of time growing tomatoes indoors. You have either proved that wrong or the exception to the rule… either way I think it is terrific :)

  9. Oh my goodness! I have an office tomato too! It showed up last August in with my peace lily and hasn’t stopped growing since (nestled in with the still-blooming lily). Currently, it’s got two wee tomatoes growing, after having a major crop in the fall (about 6 of them then, all non-delicious). Either way, it makes my entire office smell like summer and my co-workers adore me.

Comments are closed.