There is a simple joy in harvesting tomatoes from your own garden. And when you don’t have any outdoor space for growing tomatoes, there is the Aerogarden.
Gardeners everywhere love growing tomatoes. They nurture their tomato plants, watching tiny green tomatoes grow to edible size and ripen. Eventually they are rewarded with luscious red fruit to pop in the mouth or to use in dozens of different ways raw, in salads, in sauces, grilled, and as a major ingredient in countless popular recipes.
If you live in an apartment, without a yard, or a deck or patio, without window sills wide enough to accommodate the five-gallon containers tomatoes need for optimal growth, or not even a sunny window for an indoor plant pole, there is still a way to grow your own tomatoes. Scotts Miracle Gro released its trademarked Aerogarden in 2013. These hydroponic systems for growing vegetables like tomatoes indoors have become so popular that there are hundreds of competing systems for indoor tomato production, and Aerogarden has become a generic term. This article focuses on Aerogarden Tomato Tips so that you can maximize your tomato harvest.
Table of contents
- How Does an Aerogarden Work?
- Set Up Your Aerogarden for Tomato Production
- Prune Your Seedling Tomato Plants
- Top Your Tomato Plants
- Pollinate Your Tomato Plants
- Thin Your Flowers to Maximize Your Harvest
- Choose the Right Time for Your Aerogarden Tomato Harvest
- Frequently Asked Questions About Aerogarden Tomatoes
How Does an Aerogarden Work?
The Scott Miracle Gro Aerogarden and all the competing aerogardens provide light, water, and nutrients to plants without any need for soil. Aerogardens are hydroponic gardens, operating on the same principles that commercial greenhouse operators have used for decades. The thing that is different about aerogardens is that they are small enough for home use.
Even when garden space is available, there are many advantages to growing vegetables in an aerogarden or some other hydroponic system.
- Greater yields. Aerogardens and other hydroponic systems deliver a nutrient solution directly to the roots of plants. Since plants don’t compete with each other for water and nutrients, they can be planted much more closely together.
- Greatly reduced water use. In an aerogarden, a small amount of water is taken up by plants, but 90 percent of the water is pumped back into the holding tank for reuse and recycling.
- Less space. Aerogardens are designed to have a minimal footprint, so they need very little floor space to support a variety of plants.
- Precise delivery of micronutrients. In aerogarden and hydroponic systems, growing plants get all of their nutrients from the mist that bathes their roots. The micronutrients in the nutrient solution can be adjusted for the special needs of the plant.
That last point bears some additional explanation. For example, tomatoes need boron to start blooming. They need calcium and zinc when their flowers are being pollinated. They need molybdenum to make the sugars that add to the tomato’s meaty and acidic flavors. They need calcium to find fungal infections. With an aerogarden, any of these nutrients can be added in extra amounts when the tomatoes need them.
Now let’s look at some specific tips for growing tomatoes in an aerogarden.
Set Up Your Aerogarden for Tomato Production
Just about any brand of hydroponic gardening kit, not just the Scott Miracle Gro Aerogarden, can be set up for abundant tomato harvests, even more abundant than you get from a raised bed garden.
If you just bought your aerogarden and are taking it out of the box, the first thing to do is to find a convenient location for your garden. You will need to set up your aerogarden near an electrical outlet, although you don’t need to worry about sunlight. If your aerogarden is factory-new, make sure it is clean.
Fill the tank, add nutrients per product instructions, seed the aerogarden pods so your plants will have room to stretch out, and set the light about 2 inches (5 cm) over the growing tray. You can put more than one seed in each pod, but you will have to thin your planting later if more than one seed germinates. Set the timer so your tomato plants will get 16 hours of intense light every day.
Your tomato seeds should germinate in about a week. Keep adjusting the grow light upward to it is about 2 inches above the seedlings. Make sure they don’t grow into the light fixture and burn.
You may be wondering which kind of tomato to plant in your aerogarden. If you use the seeds that come with your aerogarden, you can be confident that they will grow into plants that fit into your growing system. If you need to use your own seeds, see our article on Best Tomato for Container Gardening and choose a determinate, dwarf variety. Never use any kind of tomato seed labeled “indeterminate” in an aerogarden.
Prune Your Seedling Tomato Plants
In an aerogarden, pruning is something you need to do when your tomato plants are just an inch (25 mm) tall. As soon as your seedlings start sending up several stems, choose the healthiest stem to be the main stem and snip away the rest. There should be just one healthy stem in each pod.
Thinning your tomato plants this way focuses the energy of the plant on producing tomatoes. Small and cramped plants produce fewer, smaller tomatoes.
Top Your Tomato Plants
For the next few weeks, you will keep moving the light source to keep it about 2 inches above your tomato plants. When your tomato plants are about six weeks old, you will need to top them to prevent further upward growth. To know where to top your aerogarden tomato plants, let your fingers do the walking.
Place your fingers at the bottom of the main stem you left during the first pruning. Follow the main stem upward until you feel a place where the stem branches into a “Y.” Cut just below the “Y.”
If stems are beginning to grow beyond the area where your aerogarden provides intense light, cut them off. Trim the top of your tomato plant every other week to give it the message that it needs to concentrate its effort on producing fruit.
You will be discarding healthy stems, leaves, and blooms, but topping your plant refocuses the tomato plant’s energy to fruit production.
Pollinate Your Tomato Plants
Tomato flowers can’t set fruit until they are pollinated. Tomato plants are self-pollinating (that is, they have male and female parts in each flower) but they still need a little help to make sure the pollen from the stamen reaches the pistil to begin forming the tomato.
Outdoor tomato plants are pollinated with the help of the wind and by bees, moths, and other insects. If we can assume you don’t live in a wind tunnel, and you don’t have bees flying around in your home, you will have to pollinate your tomato plants manually. Look for blossoms to appear six or seven weeks after your tomato plants have germinated and pretend you are the bee.
Tomato plants usually shed pollen from early morning to mid-afternoon. Give your aerogarden a good shake sometime during this period every day to redistribute their pollen. Or give every flower on your tomato plants a gentle rub with a paintbrush.
If a tomato flower has been pollinated, it will wither and a small tomato will appear in its place.
Thin Your Flowers to Maximize Your Harvest
Healthy tomato plants will be covered with flowers. If all of these flowers are pollinated, your tomato plant will be covered with tiny tomatoes. The first time you grow tomatoes, you probably will want to see how they turn out. But with experience, you will find that thinning out pollinated flowers as they wither, before they set tomatoes, increases the size of the remaining fruit.
It is important to understand that the dwarf and determinate varieties of tomatoes you plant in your aerogarden don’t produce indefinitely. Even if you give them excellent growing conditions, they will only produce for about six to eight weeks. If you want some large tomatoes, you need to thin about half of your flowers as soon as they set.
If you pull off all of the flowers, of course, you won’t get any tomatoes at all. Similarly, pulling off brown or yellow leaves redirects energy to the fruit, but pulling off green leaves deprives the fruit of the energy it needs to make acids and sugars and to grow to optimum size.
Choose the Right Time for Your Aerogarden Tomato Harvest
Nine to twelve weeks after germination, your tomatoes should be reaching their maximum size and changing color from green to orange to red. The time to harvest your tomatoes is when they are:
- Turning red, but
- Still firm, and
- Firmly attached to the plant.
It is important to cut tomatoes off the plant, never pulling them off the plant. Use sterilized scissors to cut the stem that holds the ripe tomato to the plant. Never twist or pull the tomato off the plant. This can turn your entire aerogarden system over, spilling water and crushing plants.
If you didn’t follow our instructions, and you planted indeterminate tomatoes, it is possible you can have a small tomato harvest every week for as long as seven to nine months. However, it will get harder and harder to keep your tomato plant growing under the light, and it will be more and more susceptible to bacterial and fungal diseases that can spread to your other plants.
Frequently Asked Questions About Aerogarden Tomatoes
Q. Don’t tomatoes grown in soil have more flavor than aerogarden tomatoes?
A. Not necessarily, concludes a study by scientists at the Austrian Institute of Technology. Scientists have found that the aroma of a tomato depends on the variety, not where it was grown. Tomatoes grown in aerogarden systems aren’t as sweet as the same varieties grown in soil, the Austrian scientists found, but careful attention to micronutrients in their nutrient solution (as described above) may compensate for this difference.
Q. Are aerogarden tomatoes as nutritious as organic tomatoes I can buy at the supermarket?
A. There has been a study of aerogarden salad greens finding that they have more antioxidants and vitamin C than organic greens bought in the market, and there are reasons to believe this is also true of tomatoes (although no scientist has done the required lab testing and crunched the numbers). Here’s what we do know about the nutritional content of tomatoes.
- Tomatoes lose up to71 percent of their vitamin C content during storage for retail sale. When you eat a tomato the same day you harvest it from your aerogarden, there is no lost vitamin C.
- Commercial tomatoes are often treated with a chemical called ethylene chloride to make them ripen sooner. You will never use this chemical on your aerogarden tomatoes.
- Tomatoes sold in stores are exposed to every kind of contamination that finds its way into storage areas and produce displays. You will keep your aerogarden tomatoes under clean, fungus-free conditions until you are ready to eat them.
Q. I have noticed some brown crud around the edges of my growing deck. Is this harmful?
A. The brown sediment that can appear around the edges of your growing deck is a residue left by dried nutrient solution that bubbled up around your seed plugs. It’s not a mold or a fungus. It is harmless. Just wipe it up with a paper towel.
Q. Why do my tomato plants look spindly?
A. When tomato plants get “leggy,” growing long stems and flopping down on their sides, the problem usually is not enough light. Make sure the light is 2 inches (5 cm) above the top of your tomato plants.
Q. Are aerogarden tomatoes organic?
A. You don’t need any harmful chemicals to grow aerogarden tomatoes. However, FDA and state rules for defining vegetables as “organic” do not include aerogarden tomatoes or other vegetable plants.
Q. Will my aerogarden increase or decrease my carbon footprint?
A. Aerogardens and other home hydroponic grow systems use electricity. Scott Miracle Gro computes the power demand of their various Aerogarden models at 13 to 126 watts per month. That’s the energy equivalent of 1/3 gallon to 3 gallons of gasoline per month. If your aerogarden saves you enough trips to the supermarket that you use that much less gas every month, you are decreasing your carbon footprint.
Q. What can I do about bugs on my aerogarden tomato plants?
A. Insects can get into your house through open doors and windows and on other houseplants. Tiny wriggling white, black, or brown insects or mites on the underside of the leaves of your tomatoes demand immediate action, but you don’t have to use insecticides. Simply wipe off insects with a paper towel and throw the paper towel into the trash.
Q. My tomatoes are blooming, and I even transferred pollen with an old toothbrush, but they aren’t setting fruit. What’s the problem?
A. One of the most commonly overlooked aerogarden tomato tips is this: When tomatoes bloom but don’t set fruit, the problem is usually temperature. Keep your plants above 60° F (15° C) at night and below 90° F (32° C) during the day.
Last update on 2022-11-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API