Have some Room? Save money by growing your own Tomato plants!

Looking to save some money at the grocery store? Think outside the box:

Many people are trying to figure out ways to save some money at the grocery store; and I mean, look at how high prices have climbed and who could blame them? I'm just the same. The cost of food is absurd. Currently where I am it's $3.29 for a pound of tomatoes. A pound of tomatoes? That's ridiculous!

Now, wouldn't it be nice to go and pick your own tomatoes in your living room for almost nothing? Seems obvious enough, and with the winter months ahead, the prices are only going to be going up. But how come I don't hear about people growing vegetables during the winter inside? you may ask. Well, it's just one of those things that people assume are left to the crazy-vegetable growing people that have giant greenhouses (which aren't a bad investment, by the way). Vegetables take up almost 35% of our grocery bill (yikes!), and this has been something I've been doing since high school when my dad turned me onto it (I'm a vegetarian, so any way to save on my veggies is a huge plus for me). Okay, so you're interested? And more importantly, do you know what you'd be using the tomatoes for? Let's do it.

Let's start with some background. You know absolutely nothing about gardening; or, maybe you do. I'll assume you know what dirt is. And seeds. So I would suggest that you go and buy seeds
(or take them from tomatoes that you have purchased, let them dry, and then plant them... but I seem to have very little luck with these. I'd recommend going for organic tomatoes to take seeds from if you can; they're healthiest). I'd also recommend cherry tomatoes (they seem to do best in terracotta pots from my experiences).

How to Choose Tomato Plants-
When you're choosing a tomato plant type, it is very important to keep in mind what you have space for. Taking the plants that claim to be "high yield" might at first seem to be optimal, but in this particular situation, probably not. Tomato plants can be either "determinate", "indeterminate", or "semi-indeterminate"; determinate are short and bushy (about three feet-- don't require support to stand), indeterminates tend to be tall (from five to eight feet tall), and semi-indeterminates tend to be in between (hence semi... duh [about three to five feet]). These growth patterns also have much to do with how they provide tomatoes. This is why you need to know what you plan on doing with your produce when it is ready for harvest. The determinates (the short guys) produce all of their tomatoes at once, while indeterminates (the tall guys) will continue producing until frost hits. The semi-s are, well, in between. (duh) You may think it's best to get the biggest plant that you can; but remember, bigger isn't always better. Any plants with thick, green leaves are going to be 10x better than plants that are bigger but have yellow wilting leaves near the soil.

Time to Plant-
Does your house stay above 45 degrees Fahrenheit? Then any time is the right time. Now, which room is the one that gets the most sunlight? In fact, which space in the room specifically gets the most sunlight? That's where you want to place the pot. Otherwise, you may as well be wasting your time. Keep in mind, you may only want to try one plant before you decide to make your living room a greenhouse. Terracotta pots are my best recommendation; they are attractive, and contrary to popular belief, they are quite cheap. But really, you could use anything: a kitchen colander, paint pots, cooking pots, plastic and glass jars, vases, even topless soda cans! Just remember to wash out the pot completely before adding soil and the plant.

Tomato requirements-
It seems that most people think if you plant a seed and water it, that's good enough and it will grow. This isn't too far from the truth, but the small difference decides whether you're going to be having any tomato sandwiches for free soon. Tomatoes, like you and I, want to be happy. They enjoy lots of sun (as much as you can get them), a little bit of water every day (if their soil is wet an hour after you watered them, then cut back a little), soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8 (okay, if you need that, you're a little weird). Certain plants like to climb, certain like to lay around on the ground. Do some research on the types you're interested in first. Keep in mind that there are advantages and disadvantages, regardless of whether they need a stake or a cage.

Pros of stake/cage: Bigger tomatoes, less space, earlier harvest, cleaner vegetables.
Cons of stake/cage: More work, lower yield, increased risk of sun-scald/cracking/blossom end rot (you know, all the stuff that causes you not to buy them at the store).

The point is that because it is said that you should or shouldn't use a cage, keep in mind your own interests. If you do decide to let them grow on the ground, keep in mind you do have to mulch once the tomatoes begin to show. This means that you need to be moving the plant around as well as the topsoil a little bit to keep the bottom of the tomatoes themselves from rotting.


Harvesting-
I know you're excited to get the vegetables off the plant, but please try to wait. The average tomato plant takes between 49 days (Fourth Of July plan) and 90 days (Garden Peach).

Some final facts for you:
An average tomato plant produces on average 35 pounds but up to 45 pounds of tomatoes.
Based on these stats, and if the cost stays around $3.00 a pound, we can assert that we are getting on average $105 worth of vegetables from one plant. The seeds might cost $1, the water used might even cost $1, the pot... maybe $5. Now only if I could get that percent return on all of my investments! Now you can make some cheap and delicious healthy meals like olive, pepper, and tomato pasta without breaking the bank!  Just one more way to save money the DIY way.

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