They say the tomato is America’s favorite vegetable (some call it a fruit). And I have to admit the tomato is a favorite of mine, particularly the heirloom varieties.
But in my zone 5 climate I need to start my tomatoes indoors and early so that the plant will be ready to produce as early as possible. I have learned tricks to accomplish this over many years.
I start my tomatoes indoor early then transplant them into homemade hot houses. By using a hot house I can start my tomato plants outdoors at least a month early. Here is a cheap and easy hothouse you can set up.
Hint: I use old aluminum storm windows that I pick up for free at garage sales or for a buck at auctions. This is one very economical hot house to set up.
Homemade Aluminum Window Hothouse
Dig a trench about 18 to 24 inches deep. If you have a tiller you can break the ground up and make the job a lot easier. Mound the excavated soil along the sides of the trench.
I then plant my tomatoes in the trench (your tomatoes will be about 18 inches below the actual soil line.) Then take the storm windows and place them over the tomatoes. This will create a very successful hot house where the tomatoes will thrive.
Tip: when placing the storm windows leave about 6 inches open at the end of the row for ventilation. At night cover this space with a board. And on very cold nights I will cover the hot house with a blanket for extra protection.
In about two to four weeks the tomatoes will be touching the glass window. If your nights are still cold you can place bricks or cement blocks on the top of the excavated soil to raise the sides. Make sure the bricks or blocks are secure and place the storm windows back on top.
When your nights are warm enough, remove the storm windows. But keep them close just in case you get a surprise frost.
There is one more very important advantage to using this hothouse method. As the plants grow I fill the trenches in with compost and soil. This means my tomato plants have roots that are 18 to 24 inches deep. This will make the plants sturdy and they will produce twice as well as ordinary tomato plants.
Tomato plants are one of the few plants that will produce roots up the stem and re-root. These additional roots are beneficial to plant production.