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Bringing Tomato Plants Inside Over the Winter

The following article is by guest contributor Linda Crago, owner of Tree and Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm. 

Linda has been growing organic heirloom vegetables for over 20 years. She specializes in tomatoes, selling over 100 different varieties each spring to tomato lovers across the region.

It’s not over!

What a year it has been in the garden.

Despite the shock of snow in May, it was an early and dry spring, enabling the garden to go in in

good time in May. As of the writing of this, October 25th, here in Niagara we haven’t had a killing

frost yet. How can it be I am still picking tomatoes from the garden? Granted, because of some

of our cooler nights, they don’t have that delicious summer-time flavour, but they are still good.

Preferable to what I know the grocery stores will be carrying in the winter…cardboard tomatoes

I eschew.

Are there alternatives to grocery store imported produce in the winter? Most definitely!

Of course if you’re a bit of a homesteader, you may have all kinds of wonderful preserves from

your 2020 garden, and crops you can easily store like carrots, beets, onions, sweet potatoes,

cabbages, garlic, carrots and more. You can also grow some lovely greens for the next few

months, such as mustards, arugula, spinach, chard and kale with the construction of a super

simple cold frame. If you have a larger hoop house…well the sky’s the limit.

You can also easily grow sprouts and micro greens inside in the winter, for super quick and

nutritious food requiring only a very simple set up. Why not also plant herbs that can survive

quite happily in a sunny window? Basils, parsley and rosemary are great candidates. Or dig up

those plants from the garden, pot them up and you are ahead of the game.

About a month ago or so, I started gathering plants I had dug out of my garden and potted up

outside my front door. Intriguingly, many of the plants we consider annuals in our climate, are

not annuals at all in other more temperate parts of the world. Tomatoes, hot peppers, some

basils which propagate from cuttings like African Blue, are all things I bring into my house in the

winter. But let’s be realistic. Most heirloom tomato varieties are indeterminate with massive root

systems and top growth. Bringing them inside is difficult and generally pretty unproductive. One

year I brought some yellow pear tomato plants into my house, and I did have a few fruits over

the winter, but the plants were massive and took up my entire front window. But the smell of

tomato plants in the dark days of winter was uplifting regardless.

Better yet to bring in small varieties of tomato plants, micro dwarf varieties like “House” a unique

Russian heirloom that generally grows no more than a foot high and produces delicious red

cherry tomatoes in nearly unbelievable abundance. These plants may be quite bedraggled after

their season outside, so trim off any dead stems and generally clean them up so they can begin

new growth in the winter.

When bringing any of these garden plants inside, it is necessary to do a bit of reverse hardening

off, that is adjust them to new temperature and light levels gradually. So over the course of

about a week, I pop them in the house for a few hours, then pop them outside again, gradually

lengthening the amount of time they are inside, until at the end of the week, that is what they

know.

You won’t be producing a ton of tomatoes from your little plants indoors, but you’ll have a good

jump on the season next spring and in all likelihood will easily have ripe May tomatoes to look

forward to in 2021. The record for the oldest “House” variety tomato plant that I am aware of is

18 years old. Could you break that record…or enjoy trying?

It’s not over!

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