Tomato Fire Fly on April 17, 2020
In June 2019 I was given a tomato plant — the AAS winner F1 hybrid Fire Fly. It started producing small sweet yellow tomatoes later than my other plants since I got it so late. Since it was only around 5 feet tall, I’d been hauling it in and out of the walkout basement if frost threatened as tomatoes were still ripening. I continued moving it in and out into November.
Meanwhile, I’d read that some gardeners in Colorado Springs were successfully growing tomatoes in winter indoors under lights. I didn’t have grow lights or a greenhouse, but I did have a south-facing patio door that I thought might get enough daily sun. The plant I was nursing along was developing leaf disease, but there were several suckers with healthy foliage.
I picked two suckers off the plant and put them in water. Both rooted and I moved them to 1 gallon pots. One plant took off and started growing well; the other just sat there. After 2 weeks, I gave up on it. The remaining plant was getting at least 4 hours of direct sun daily. I used Espoma Tomato Tone as fertilizer at about 1 Tbsp. per week.
This is the plant on December 26, 2019.
It continued to thrive and grow. Blossoms developed on January 2, 2020. On January 7, I had a nice bloom cluster and the plant needed a taller stake. I “flicked” the blossoms to help pollinate. Tomatoes self pollinate which is a good thing since I only had one! And lo and behold — on January 17 I had tiny tomatoes.
Fire Fly continued its upward growth putting out lots of blossom clusters. There was no sign of leaf disease during January. Water, organic fertilizer and 5-6 hours of direct sun worked to produce many clusters of green tomatoes. I picked the first ripe ones on March 8 and had a handful of very tasty little tomatoes on March 15.
We have not had huge harvests, but the occasional handful of home grown tomatoes has been very welcome in salads and as snacks. When Firefly became taller than its stake, I topped it towards the end of March to keep it in bounds.
Alas about two weeks ago I noticed signs of leaf disease. Since this plant was a rooted sucker, I’m sure the spores were there all along. I’m actually surprised it took this long for them to take hold.
I should have put the plant into a 5 gallon pot, but it had gotten very unwieldy and I decided to leave it in its 1 gallon home rather than risk breaking the main stem. I’m sure it is stressed by being root bound no matter how much water and fertilizer I give it. However long it lasts, I am grateful for its bounty.
The winter tomato experiment was far more successful than I expected and I’m going to do it again next year. I will try Sungold, which is an F1 hybrid with almost a cult following, and also a dwarf tomato. I think F1 hybrids may have an advantage since they are disease resistant and bred for vigor and fruit production. Dwarf tomatoes were created for container growing and are great space savers.
Next year, I will start plants from seed in late summer and let them grow outdoors until frost. Then I’ll let them hog the sunlight in the patio door window. I hope the amaryllis aren’t too bummed about sharing ;-). My success I’m sure is due to our intense Colorado sunlight and my south facing window. Other Colorado gardeners have had success with grow lights, but I’m lucky I don’t need them. Of course, I can always dream of a greenhouse…