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Aug 5, 2009 05:27 PM

Tomatoes off season

We just moved, and are building a cold/hot/greenhouse. I understand that it's late in the season, but it's been tropical damp here (NJ) for months.

Who here knows about planting during the late season and growing in an enclosed setting? I can't believe that it's impossible. Part of me thinks that the dampness of the summer might make for a sunnier autumn, which would be just as good. Yes, I am that naive.

This is the current green/hot/coldhouse, and we're in central NJ (a roof will be added, with a 100Watt bulb added during the winter).

I'm green when it comes to planting, and just figured out that the reason my pepper plants were drooping was due to fruiting (stakes added tonight, with recycled ties). In addition to our Sweet Basil plants, those are growing immensely still (2 months! In as much as the slugs have eaten, we still have more than we can use; I need to make pesto


But tomatoes. Those delicious fruits which were damaged by blight and bad seeds this year. Is it at all possible to grow some starting now? The heat isn't dissipating. The sun is wierd. I read something about resprouting plants, but we have no plants which have sprouted yet. The idea that plant+nutrients+sun should grow should work, no?


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  1. "Tomatoes require full sun and grow best when day temperatures are between 65 and 85 degrees. Flowers will not set fruit if night temperatures drop below 55 degrees F. Tomatoes are a tropical plant that need a very long, warm season to ripen fruit."

    It might be possible to grow a few tomatoes in the next few months if you planted some very advanced seedlings but with low expectations of how much fruit you'll get. You may be able to get plants from the nursery that have been transplanted into gallon+ pots. It is way too late to start seeds - they take 12 -16 weeks to get to healthy seedling stage - and a lot of folks start them off in February ready for planting out in May (unless you're in Florida or Texas!). Tomatoe plants create roots along the stems if they are buried in soil. You can plant a cleanly broken stem and it should take off. Bear in mind though that at this late stage it will put more energy into growing roots not fruit. I would never re-plant a stem from a diseased plant though.

    The limiting factors to a good crop are going to be 1) days to harvest - the number of days it takes for the plant to flower then produce the toms and 2) cooling night time temps - cooler weather slows growth of the tomatoe plants and the flowers may not pollinate. There are some specific early varieties that are more cold-tolerant (Stupice, Oregon Spring, Legend) and may do better for you than others.
    So, providing you can find a decent sized plant then your biggest issues will be light and night time heat. Once the days get shorter your 100 watt bulb won't provide enough light and you will need a way to heat the greenhouse overnight. A heat sink could work there.

    Here's a link to a thread that might be useful:

    Hope this helped and good luck!

    1. You can only fool Mother Nature so much. Yes, it's possible to grow tomatoes in greenhouse conditions. But what you get isn't the same as what you get when the tomatoes can develop outside with long days of intense light and warm to hot temperatures to develop the flavor that you want.
      The question is whether it's worth the trouble for some tomatoes that won't taste a whole lot better than those supermarket orbs we all complain about.

      4 Replies
      1. re: MakingSense

        MS: I'm lucky to be in NJ--the tomatoes here are usually incredible (the blight that hit this season and the uncommon rain hasn't helped). We currently have a single tomato making attempting to blossom on the front lawn. Worst case scenario--fried green tomato. That said, we've only put hinges on the last windows and need to make the sides (the project is taking longer than planned, but that is okay).

        We're currently in an abundance of tomatoes from our CSA (Honey Brook Farms)

        1. re: Caralien

          You might pick up one of Elliot Coleman's books about extending the season with a greenhouse, hoop house, etc. He market gardens in Maine. I looked at the book briefly at the bookstore but I don't think he tries to grow tomatoes during the winter. There are lists of what he grows in different set ups. You might do better to put your greenhouse to use with more productive vegetables for this time of year and fall.

          1. re: dfrostnh

            thanks! I've just reserved "Four-season harvest : organic vegetables from your home garden all year long / Eliot Coleman" from the library.

            So far, the basil and hot peppers are still growing well (habanero, jalapeno, and black pearl). The upside-down tomatoes (under the basil) are attempting to do something. One month-old green tomato has decided to finally start turning red, and flowers have started appearing on another plant.

            Our hot/cold/greenhouse (we've named it the bufala birdhouse) isn't set up for use just yet--it still needs sides to the roof. Once I get that project completed (including hanging lantern, which I've found the pieces for), and read at least the book I currently am reserving, I'll post more.

            I do truly believe that it must be possible to grow tomatoes year round even in this climate. My naivity may help me in this instance.

            1. re: Caralien

              There are probably tomato varieties that will work as Shazam has posted. I recently bought one of Elliot Coleman's books but haven't had a chance to read. My impression is that as a market gardener he has to get the most he can for the space they have, so profits are better with other vegetables.

              Here in NH my peppers are doing wonderfully. One plant is out performing the others with about 16 peppers. I took a picture and will have to make better notes since I bought one each of a variety of heirlooms. This time last year I'm sure we had red peppers so this has been an unusual year with the long, cold rainy start to so-called summer. I have one volunteer tomato in the middle of the garden that now has green cherry size fruit. I may save seed from this because it appears to be pretty hardy for NH.

      2. There are a number of dwarf tomato plants that grow just fine under grow lights all season long. Varieties include Red Robin and Tiny Tim.

        1. Don't try resprouting your existing tomatoes if they were damaged by late blight. You want to get those out of your garden completely. Every source I've looked at says to put them in plastic bags and trash them. Don't put them in your compost because the spores can over winter and when you spread the compost next year, you'll spread the spores and have the same or worse problem. Late blight is the same blight that decimated the Irish potato crop during the Potato Famine and it affects all members of the Nightshade family of vegetables (and also wild nightshades). It can spread from your tomatoes to your potatoes, eggplants, etc.

          Good light length is very important to tomato growth as are nutrients but to get your tomatoes to sprout and grow they need night time temps to go no lower than 65 degrees. At this time of year you may be better off growing some cherries or grapes under lights indoors. You'll need a lot of light to keep your plants stocky so keep the light fixture adjusted to only an inch or two above the tops of the plant. Tomatoes also love calcium and I was turned on by an old-timey grower here to put 1/4 to 1/2 cup of powdered instant milk in the bottom of each hole when planting tomatoes out. The same might work for your indoor tomato.

          1. Plant some winter crops...

            I tore out most of my tomato plants yesterday. I planted my "winter garden" broccoli, caulifower, onions, carrots etc.

            Some of those crops are doomed, just as my cukes were this summer, however the tomatoes and peppers did very well.

            I think the greatest pleasure of home gardening is producing something awesome from your own land with you 2 hands. Let the ghosts of a bad tomato harvest move along during the off season and enjoy the pleasure of the next seasons harvest instead.