A Frugal Project For A Warm Saturday Afternoon: Starting Your Own Tomato Plant

tomatoI used to live in a very small apartment in the city, and I was very poor. One way I saved money was by growing some of my fruits and vegetables inside the apartment in large tubs, and the easiest and most enjoyable of all was the humble tomato. I just filled up a large tub with dirt, planted a tomato plant in it, sat it by the largest window in the apartment, and watered it about twice a week. It produced about sixty pounds of giant, delicious tomatoes, so many that I couldn’t eat them all and used a few simple techniques to save them for winter.

Sound like a good plan? Here’s all you need to know to start your own tomato plant. All you need is a couple hours to get started, a window that gets a lot of good sunlight (or even better, a deck), and a reminder to yourself to water it twice a week or so.

Stuff You Need

A pre-started tomato plant Stop by your local gardening store and ask them for a tomato starter. Ask for a variety that requires minimal maintenance and grows well in partial shade. They should be able to point you towards an appropriate variety.

A large pot You should also pick up a large pot while there, one that could hold ten gallons of water or so. This will be your primary growing container.

Soil/dirt If you don’t have access to good dirt, then you’ll need to also purchase a quantity of potting soil, an amount that will fill the pot roughly three quarters full. Once you have this soil base, it can survive for a very long time with occasional replenishment.

A tomato cage You won’t need this for a month or so.

Miracle-Gro may be needed in future years to replenish the soil; if you want to go organic, you can use another organic fertilizer.

That’s all you need.

What Now?

Go home. Put the pot where you want it. Put the soil/dirt in the pot. Put the plant in the soil. Then water it.

How do I water it? Add a quart of water around the plant itself, then wait a day. If the soil is very dry, then that means you’ll need to water it with more volume – try putting in two quarts of water. You’ll want to find a balance so that you don’t overwater it (it’s always swampy) and you don’t let it go completely dry, either. It’ll take some work until you get the touch, so just check it every day and keep adding a little more each time until the surface is still moist the following day (if there’s sitting water, you watered it too much – give it a couple of days and don’t put in as much). At that point, you can water it every other day; you can keep stretching it more than that, but don’t go beyond twice a week if you want a truly healthy plant.

What about the cage? After about a month, you’ll need to put the cage around the plant, as it’ll be growing rapidly and will need something to guide it. Just put the cage around it and lift the branches so they rest on the cage. Every two weeks or so, try lifting loose branches up gently to higher points on the cage.

You may also want to rotate the plant occasionally, but it’s not fully necessary. I used to rotate it 180 degrees about once a week.

Harvest

About three months later, the plant will begin to produce fruit, and if it’s healthy, you’ll get more than you can believe. Eat them while they’re fresh, as much as you can, but with the rest, I really recommend converting them into the most delicious substance on earth, fresh tomato sauce.

It’s really easy to do – just wait until you have about twenty pounds of them, cut off the stems, put them all in the biggest pan you have, add a little bit of salt and pepper and any herbs you like, and then turn on a low heat and start slashing open the tomatoes in the pan. Let it simmer for 45 minutes, then use a hand mixer to mix up the floating tomato pieces and make it all homogenous. Let it simmer for a couple hours, then pour it into freezer quart Ziploc bags and toss them in the freezer. One bag will be plenty to make a wonderful tomato sauce for spaghetti, pizza (boil it down to make it really thick for pizza sauce), or anything else you might want.

Then, in the middle of winter, you can have wonderful fresh spaghetti sauce made out of tomatoes you grew and prepared yourself – and the cost was almost nothing!

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