If you haven’t tried a sweet and juicy heirloom tomato, then you are missing out. I have a secret for how to grow heirloom tomato plants faster and I’m going to let you in on it!
What Does Heirloom Tomato Mean?
Heirloom tomatoes are tomatoes that have been picked by farmers for their best qualities. Essentially, they harvest the seeds from the best tomato plants that have produced sweet, juicy, or large tomatoes. They only harvest seeds from their prized plants that have produced the best quality fruit.
The term heirloom is tossed around lightly and many seed producers use the term even though the seeds are genetically modified or altered. I find this sad but our systems for truth in marketing are flawed, to say the least.
I buy heirloom tomatoes from my local organic market and nursery and then harvest the seeds from a source that I trust. More about how I harvest these precious seeds in just a bit but let’s get to my secret weapon for growing tomatoes fast!
Growing Hydroponic Tomatoes
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Hydroponic may sound like a scary word or maybe something you think you can’t do, but I can assure you that this method is not only easy, but I’ve saved a lot of money with this little countertop garden.
Popular brands for personal hydroponic gardens are AeroGarden and iDOO. They are small hydroponic gardens that fit on your counter.
I invested approximately $100 in my first hydroponic garden and all of the supplies. (I have three now.) I know what you’re thinking, “I can buy a bunch of tomato plants for $100”, but I grew way more than tomatoes with one machine in less than three months.
Since this post is about tomatoes, we’ll start with that, but stay with me so I can tell you about all of the other hydroponic plants I’ve grown so far.
Do Hydroponic Tomatoes Grow Faster?
Yes. Tomatoes that are grown in hydroponics grow faster than tomato seeds planted in the ground. I did a test with growing tomato seeds in soil vs. hydroponics. In hydroponics, the seeds germinated in 3 days. In soil, they germinated in about 7 days.
Germination itself was not a huge factor in the initial plant growth, but the actual growing process in hydroponics was shocking. In just less than one month in hydroponics, I had 12 tomato plants that were already 12 inches tall and had to be moved outdoors! They outgrew the system in less than a month.
The tomatoes that I planted in the soil were barely 3″ tall in the same amount of time and the stems were frail and weak looking. The stems from the hydroponic tomatoes were so thick and healthy. I gifted some to my parents and some to another friend that loves growing tomatoes.
This is a terrible picture but my parents have deer so they put this plant in a large dog kennel to protect the plant from the deer. This is one month after I gave them the tomato plant.
My dad had already planted his tomatoes for the year so this one got put in the “doghouse”, literally. He didn’t have room for it in his garden, but now he’s singing another tune. He’s asking me to grow all of his plants next year because the ones he bought from the garden center aren’t even half as big. (I’m grinning from ear to ear…)
Types of Hydroponic Tomato Seeds
I see this question a lot, “Where do you buy hydroponic tomato seeds?”. If you have a tomato seed, it’s hydroponic. There is no difference. A seed is a seed.
Now if you want tomatoes that bear fruit in the hydroponic garden, choose from a small, dwarf variety like Tiny Tims. I like to grow start tomatoes in hydroponics to get a head start on my gardening before they are transplanted outside.
When To Start Hydroponic Tomatoes For Planting Outdoors
Start tomato plants about one month prior to time to plant them outdoors. I live in garden zone 8B and we don’t generally start seeing fruit until around September but we plant tomatoes in April or May.
Your plants will be ready to harden off in one month or less. Don’t forget to add nutrients every time you add or change the water.
How To Harden Off Hydroponic Tomato Plants
I always save my one-gallon containers from other plants (I get the neighbors and my parents to save theirs as well). When you’re ready to move your plants out of your hydroponic garden, you need to harden them off which just means acclimating them to their new growing conditions.
I gently separate the roots from the growing basket as best as I can. You will lose several roots but that’s ok. Prepare a pot with soil and pinch off almost all of the leaves on the plant, leaving only the top full set of leaves.
When you put the pod into the soil, get the stem down in there deep with only a couple inches of plant and all of the leaves poking out. All of the hairs on the tomato stem will start growing roots and this creates a much stronger plant.
People are reluctant to pinch off the plant but you’ll get a stronger, healthier plant by doing so. Water the plant well and keep it indoors for a couple of days near a sunny window. After a couple of days, move it outside into the shade for a few more days and then to its final spot in your garden.
Acclimating the tomato plant slowly will keep it from going into severe shock. It may still suffer a bit of shock but it will bounce back.
Soil For Tomatoes
Be sure to pick good quality soil for growing tomatoes. It’s a little more expensive but the results are worth it. Tomatoes like to be watered deep so if you’re planting in containers, be sure to put saucers under them and bottom water by putting water in the saucer itself and allowing the tomatoes to soak up the water.
Nutrients For Tomatoes
Saving coffee grounds adds nitrogen to the soil. Be sure to spread your coffee grounds out in the sun for a day to allow them to dry before adding them to the soil. Drying them out prevents mold from growing.
Tomatoes also love eggshells. Remove as much of the skin from the eggshell as possible and allow them to dry out. Crush them up and add them to your soil for healthier tomatoes.
If you want to grow heirloom tomatoes faster, consider a personal hydroponic system to start your plants. The hydroponic tomatoes grow stronger and faster when started in hydroponics.
Read this post if you’d like to learn more about harvesting tomato seeds.
Featured Image Photo by Cristina Anne Costello on Unsplash.
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