Planting Tomato Seeds
In The Fall

Dateline: 7 November 2013

Those of you reading this who have a copy of The Planet Whizbang Idea Book For Gardeners know all about my "low-rider" tire beds and how useful they are in the garden. One of the uses for these handy little beds is for experimenting on a small scale with new gardening ideas. That's what this blog post is about—a new gardening idea. At least it's new to me.

The usual way to start tomato plants in the spring is to seed them into flats inside and transplant the seedlings outdoors when the weather warms. I wrote about how we start tomato seedlings without grow lights and heat mats and all of that earlier this year (Click Here to read). 

But I was recently listening to This Resilient Life Podcast with Jere Gettle from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and  he briefly mentioned a tomato-starting idea that never occurred to me. It makes a lot of sense.

Is it possible to completely eliminate the fuss of starting tomato seeds indoors every spring by simply "planting" some tomatoes off the vine into the garden in the fall? 

Jere mentioned doing this with an heirloom cherry tomato. Well, I'm particularly fond of the Tommy Toe tomato…

Tommy Toe tomatoes in my garden.
(click to see a larger view)

My garden idea book fully explains how I grow Tommy Toe tomatoes on a string trellis. Three plants, properly trained on a T-post trellis, will produce an abundance of tomatoes. You can get some insights into my technique from the Planet Whizbag T-Post Trellis Instructional Web Site.

So, as the picture at the top of this page shows, I have planted tomatoes in my fall garden. I simply picked some old Tommy Toes off the frost-killed plants, mooshed and chopped them to get the seeds spread out, and covered them with a little soil. I also spread a light straw mulch over the "nursery bed."

In the spring, six weeks or so before planting, when I would typically be starting the Tommy Toe plants indoors, I will remove the straw mulch and put a Planet Whizbang solar pyramid over the bed. You can see one of these pyramids at the seed starting link I gave above, and you can learn how to make them in The Planet Whizbang Idea Book For Gardeners.

We will see if the seeds in those old tomatoes grow in the spring. All I need is three hardy transplants out of the nursery bed to make my string trellis for next year's garden. I'll report on the success (or not) of this idea next spring.

Has anyone else intentionally planted tomatoes like this? If so, please tell us how it worked for you in the comments section below.


Julie said...

I did not do it on purpose, but here is my experience. Last year I moved to my new homestead. The garden area had been planted in years past but previous "gardeners"
never amended the soil. It is just nutrient poor sand. Before I got the chickens, I would just sling the kitchen scraps out on the garden bed in a sheet composting style. Among those scraps were tomatoes too nasty for eating, but not fully rotted.
This went on from late Fall through the first winter. Come Spring, I tilled and planted that area. Darned if I did not get what I referred to as my feral tomatoes to sprout and come up in the carrot bed. I left them alone and got a nice little cherry tomato plant. It produced a moderate harvest, which I thought was stupendous, considering the poor things had pretty poor soil and got rototilled after "planting" as well. With some real care I think this idea can work! I did try the winter sowing technique in gallon plastic jugs last year. It was a raging success. So many plants for so little effort. This coming gardening season will see lots of amendments thanks to copious tree leaves, the chickens and the neighbors horses!

Jon C. said...

I do it regularly and have better results such as more fruit, disease resistance, and a lot less work.

In years past I have spent months fussing over seedlings started indoors just to have them die when transplanted. That is a lot of wasted time that is saved by planting the rotting tomatos.

Herrick Kimball said...

Feral tomatoes. I like that term. Thanks for the feedback.

Jon C.,
That sounds really good to me! I'm wondering what state or USDA zone you are gardening in. Do you use plastic over the plants, or just let nature take its course?

Jon C. said...

Good point... I'm in California zone 8. I didn't help them at all....other than watering. No covers, no stakes, no thinning.

considering your location, you may need to assist with plastic covers and such.

Jonathan Sanders said...

Tomato seeds are apparently pretty hardy. My work used to take me to a factory in Mexico. The waste treatment facility used drying beds to sort of "compost" the solids from the waste. In the dried beds were abundant tomato plants...

Humble wife said...

We toss slops to the chickens too and sometimes I actually walk out the front door and toss off the front porch. Living in the desert of NM, I used to be surprised at all the volunteer plants I have. Currently I have a tomato plant that never grew up, but spread about on the ground. We have never watered it and yet it produces. The same for the cantaloupe, cilantro, basil, and onions that have grown from cast slops to the I am confident your efforts will yield excellent results.


Sarah said...

I've wintersown outside in plastic milk jugs (mini greenhouses) in zone 6a for years (Hudson Valley, NY). It has never failed to produce plenty of sturdy tomato plants. I pay attention to temps after they have sprouted and throw a blanket over the jugs if a frost is predicted, but that is all the protection they need. The seedlings are smaller than those startexd indoors but infinitely less fussy and they catch up in no time. I start greens, brassicas, and alliums this way too. Peppers don't work so well, so I start those inside.