For the last few years, I've been puzzling about how to have fresh tomatoes in winter without buying the tasteless greenhouse varieties that travel long distances -- and use more energy calories in the fossil fuels that transport them to me than my body could ever derive from them. A first world problem, to be sure, but I can't help it that I love tomatoes all year round. That's why I can and freeze as many as possible every autumn -- but even so, nothing beats a fresh, homegrown tomato!
So this year, we're trying an experiment. We cleared out the corner of our basement nearest to our furnace and moved our grow lights in from the greenhouse (which doesn't get enough sun or heat to grow anything in these darkest wintry days). Lee put up a few shelves on brackets, and I set 18 little tomato plants on them, curious to see how they will grow.
It's been over 40 days since this picture was taken, and things have been progressing. At first, we had issues with fungus gnats because tomato plants need good moisture or the fruit ends up with blossom end rot, and maybe I was overdoing the watering. Now I'm watering from the bottom, thanks to the recycled lasagna trays under each pot, and the gnats, which come from the top inch or so of the soil, have died down.
Then, there was the issue of pollination -- which I have been handling with a small water colour paint brush, pretending to be a happy little bumblebee. And last week, I discovered that some of the plants were developing bad cases of powdery mildew fungus, which I spray treated with 1 part milk to 4 parts water solution. A good trick, that. I'm thinking to use it on my rose bushes next summer.
These tomato plants aren't quite as hearty as I would hope -- maybe I planted the wrong varieties, their roots can't reach down through 3 meters of good soil, and I'm not fertilizing enough (my vermicomposters are just getting going again after being outdoors all summer, so there's no worm casting fertilizer yet, and I refuse to buy chemicals). The bone meal stuff we have leftover from the days before we got wise to more organic means simply isn't soluble.
At least our plants get stalk thickening breezes from a couple of fans we've set on timers, and they are flowering and fruiting, so we should have a few edible tomatoes somewhere down the road. It's an experiment, and if there's a yield, that will be wonderful.
Of course, I've already reaped the bonuses of keeping my fingers in the dirt in spite of winter, and of watching things grow!