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.
Spring is coming; we are on the down-slide out of winter now. Everyone join hands and sing because I think we’re gonna make it (after all).
I’ve been receiving a number of emails from readers looking for spring gardening advice: starting seeds, edibles to grow in containers, favourite varieties, etc, so I think it’s high time for a spring gardening recap. I’ve gone through the archives (11 years worth!) and selected how-to articles that will help you get started or provide a little inspiration if you’re feeling stuck.
To begin, please check out my books as they provide all sorts of advice, projects, and processes to follow that are not available on this website. You Grow Girl is a general guide for small space gardening that covers a wide range of plants and topics, and Grow Great Grub is all about growing FOOD in small spaces.
Do you become absolutely insufferable through the last dregs of winter? Do you cry, bitch, and moan that spring will never come and you will not make it out alive, not this time? Well then you and I are in the same boat my friend, and this post is for you.
Last April I spoke at the Drawn and Quarterly bookstore in Montreal to promote my book, Grow Great Grub. While there, I took the opportunity to visit my favourite botanical garden, the Montreal Botanical Gardens. If you’d like to see images of the gardens and greenhouse at different times of the year, I have an archive of images from past trips. You can not visit Montreal without visiting the garden!
Magnolia trees in bloom. Enough said.
I love the way the hardy sedum trails over the hard edges of the concrete border, and the little muscari flowers that are popping up within it.
Grecian Thistle (Ptilostemon afer). My love for thistles is expanding.
When we moved, I abandoned the cobbled together grow light setup I had been struggling with for years in favour of beginning again with a much improved, bigger and badder system.
In the old place I had to stuff the grow light shelving system into a corner nook of my office. Consequently, it couldn’t be more than 2ft wide. Have you ever tried to buy a shop light that is only 2 feet wide? Good luck. Yes, they are available, but they are built in a boxy shape and are meant to be wired in as under-cabinet lighting. I had to do a bit of precarious electrical wiring in order to attached a plugin cord to my lights. Because they were mounted and stationary, I had to lift my seedlings up to receive the necessary amount of distance between them and the bulbs as they grew. This meant regularly adding and subtracting stacks of books that I had placed underneath flimsy trays that wobbled and spilled liquid whenever they were shifted.
As you can imagine, this method did not always work out well for the books.
And then there was the shape of the shop light boxes themselves. Boxy shapes with sides that come down straight don’t reflect light well. I made due, but the set up was what it was. At the time I was happy to take what I could get.
So when we moved I abandoned that mess of wires and spare parts with the dream of something less ramshackle in mind. And then… work, life, moving, stuff. Finally, it all came to a head during the Holidays when the unheated front porch froze and several plants that should not have been out there but had no where else to go, froze. I needed a lighting system stat.
Here’s what I built.
Those of us in the northeastern reaches of North America are something like just past the halfway mark to spring. The days are getting longer, and even though I am thoroughly discouraged by endless applications of boots and layers of heavy clothing, there is some hope. Spring is within a reasonably foreseeable future. There are times when it feels like I can almost touch it and smell it, and yesterday afternoon I realized that I can! It’s growing just behind my desk.
On Twitter, I mentioned the tomato plant I am growing in my office. I don’t know which variety it is as it came up as a volunteer in one of the houseplant pots that I must have put out on the roof last summer. It’s got to be one of the determinate varieties that I grew, but who’s to know? It’s a mystery. When it was sturdy enough, I carefully pulled the little seedling out of the soil it was sharing with an epiphytic cactus, no less, and gave it a new pot with more appropriate soil.
As of now, in the dead of winter, the variety isn’t important or worth speculating about. What matters is the smell, that beautiful, invigorating, strong tomato smell. It is probably the smell I miss most through the winter months.
I try to spend a few minutes with my plants each day, not just for their sake, but for my own. I keep many of the most aromatic and softly textured plants in my office where I have easy access to touching and smelling them. They keep me going.
I’ve always considered tomato a productive, workhorse plant that is grown with the expressed intention of producing an edible crop. But yesterday I realized that their usefulness goes above and beyond the food we put into our mouths.
When I mentioned my plant on Twitter, a few people chimed in immediately about the smell and how much they missed it. It’s still a bit early to start tomatoes in my area, and yet I’ve been enjoying mine for over a month already. It got me thinking that there is no reason why we can’t or shouldn’t grow a tomato plant indoors, in the off-season, for no other reason than our own pleasure. Even if we can’t provide it with a strong enough light that can take it all the way through to spring and a life outdoors where it will produce tomatoes… so what. Isn’t it worth growing for the smell alone?
That’s cheap therapy.