I thought I was on the last stretch of tomato season last month, turned out I was wrong! I had a new round of harvest earlier this month. Why am I growing tomatoes? Why should you? I can’t answer the second question, but I’ll do my best explaining the first.
Easy to grow, harvest and maintain.
Everything is relative, of course. When I asked around the internet and amongst my more green-fingered friends what a good starting plant, the answers were mixed but tomatoes came up constantly as an example of something I should give a shot. I looked up some simple guides on how to grow the plants, sliced up a few different tomatoes and dug them into some dirt to test. It was successful!
A bit too successful in fact: I had to scramble up more pots and I had a tiny cold war with the family about kitchen counter space all of a sudden dropping to zero.
Even if it is easy to grow, it doesn’t mean there will be no bumps in the road – God knows I hit every single one imaginable, some I didn’t even know it was possible to hit – but there are plenty of resources out there on how to fix everything. Tomatoes are a popular plant and that means the knowledge base about them is huge. Everyone and their grandma has planted them at some point.
There is nothing that boosts a new gardener’s ego like getting something done and watching it grow: It’s an intoxicating (in a good way) feeling seeing that process, from seed to fruit. The short cut to that feeling and effect is to start with tomatoes.
After ironing out the kinks along the way and getting better at preventing the basic problems, the plants are very low maintenance: I spend under 30 minutes per week with watering, adding nutrients, cutting foliage and harvesting. When I added more plants to my little garden it didn’t really add any time at all (more on that later).
Diverse use and tradeable.
You can juice it, soup it, pickle it, make dressing out of it (or whatever ketchup is
supposed to be), snack on it, be your favorite part of the salad, and you can even make wine out of them! That last one is on my to-do list. I have some dandelion wine that needs to be bottled before that experiment.
I don’t know about you, but there are very few I know that dislike tomato – Making it ideal to barter with; some even trade money for it!
Because of the diversity of what you can do with your own little batch of tomatoes, it is an ideal base crop for many different kinds of side hustles. The marketability of your finished product increases when you can add the story of homegrown ingredients to the pluses of your product and you get lots of photo opportunities at all stages of your crop.
Even if I haven’t turned my tomatoes into a different product yet, it has been a joy to enjoy fresh-picked crops (see the dinner picture above for one example) and get a nice “discount” on the weekly shopping bill by growing my own tomatoes.
Scaling isn’t hard.
I’m sure there are some tomato variants that take a lot of space to yield an acceptable harvest, but man, cherry tomatoes take almost no space at all and is easy to scale up and down as needed – One of the reasons I’m ditching all larger variants next growing season. I’ve used at least one pot out of a bunch to experiment with how well tomatoes grow a bit more crowded than recommended (in a non-rainy spot!) to find out how to much I can push even the microscale for more delicious tomatoes. I haven’t found the sweet spot for that yet, but I feel I’m close.
Even for us apartment-cavemen, there is lots of space: Making good use of vertical dimension with the up-side-down growing method and fabric-shelves lets you maximize the space and it can look really good if you do it well to boot! There is some genius solutions out there to use, which is easy to move, put up, and tear down as needed. The mobility is extra important for us with limited space who need to resort to guerrilla gardening or renting spots. I’m sure there are plenty of solutions floating around out there that I haven’t even seen (but not from a lack of trying!).
Doubling your plants won’t really double the maintenance time either (up to a point of course): When you stand there with a watering can, a pair of scissors or something to pick up fruits in it’s not going to take you that much more time to splash some extra water, snip off a few more branches or pick a few extra tomatoes. After keeping track, it turns out I use the same amount of time (about 5 minutes per day), but use it more efficiently.