In late October or early November of 2011, I planted some Manitoba Variety tomato seeds indoors. The seeds started quickly, but were slowed in early vegetative growth by the poor soil mix in use: a high quantity of coconut coir mixed with some worm castings and expanded perlite. If I had added more nutrients or fertilizer during this period, the growing medium would have been fine, but the plants’ development was slowed due to starvation.
Once I transplanted the 2 healthiest Manitoba tomato plants into Fox Farms Ocean Forest, they were reinvigorated. The plants continued to flower and fruit while in 2 gallon plastic bags, looking very healthy until the first round of tomatoes started to get large. By this time, some of the leaves had begun to yellow, so I knew most of the nutrients in the soil were depleted. Since one of the plants flowered, but would never develop fruit, long after the first plant, and with much tapping and blowing on the blossoms.
After the first signs of nutrient deficiencies, I began adding Age Old Organics’ Bloom fertilizer to the water at 25%. While the 6-12-6 powered water did cure any yellowing in the leaves of the final tomato plant, the problem of end blossom rot had surfaced in larger tomatoes. Research discovered that the main cause of end blossom rot is a calcium deficiency, a nutrient not available in the “bloom” or “flower” solutions available from most nutrient manufacturers. However, the worm castings on hand contained a high level of egg shells, so I top dressed the plant with a few handfuls of the vermi-compost. While applying the castings helped briefly (and a higher content in the soil mix would have eliminated the problem), the end blossom rot continued to return on larger fruit. Nutrient manufacturers generally sell CalMag solutions of calcium and magnesium, designed to address low nutrient levels at flower onset (or whenever needed). One organic solution is to boil a tea of crushed egg shells and add to the watering solution.
Another limiting factor for the indoor tomatoes’ health was the container size. The roots of this plant were bound in a 2 gallon grow bag, much too small. The plastic bag worked fine (and was very cheap), but I have started using Smart Pots, as they are reusable and lend to better root development in smaller containers. Not to mention, the version with the handles is easier to move than the hard plastic or clay version of the same size. With the small container and soil mass, the soil would dry out almost every day and, with imperfect gardeners, the leaves would wilt more often than desired. Although none of the tomatoes have split yet, there was little buffer room for the water supply of the plant’s roots. A larger planter would also keep the interior roots warmer, as well as allow for fuller root development. The fruit size should be proportionate to the size of the engine powering the machine building it.
Despite the imperfections in this Manitoba tomato plant’s life cycle, some medium sized fruits ripened on the vine without defects and proved delicious! Some of the smaller and less ripe samples still had green around the seeds internally, but still tasted sweet. These tomatoes were diced and used in the sauce of Moroccan Chicken with Tomatoes and Potatoes. The first early harvest says it is worth taking cuttings of this tomato plant, aiming for a perpetual harvest from plants that get healthier each growing cycle.