How To Start Growing Tomatoes

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Growing tomatoes with children is an amazing fun but simple way to get them interested in gardening.

They can be sown in early spring indoors and they will then be ready to be planted out mid to late June after your last frosts. You could also buy small tomato plants from a garden centre and pot them up too but i feel the children connect with the plants better if they have sown the seeds themselves.

I mean, what better lesson is there, than sowing a tiny seed and a few weeks later actually picking those delicious fruits and being able to feed yourself?

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Seed starter set perfect for growing tomatoes and chillies
This set has removable cells inside a water tray

So, here’s what you need to know when growing tomatoes

You will need:

  • Tomato seeds
  • Recycled Seed starters
  • Seed  compost. (We used multipurpose compost).
  • small watering can or misting bottle of water(optional)

Later you will need

  • Tomato plant food
  • Larger pots or paper cups
  • Larger pots for larger tomato plants
  • Potting soil

First choose your pots

Tomatoes seed is very small so you only need small seed starting pots. Usually we like to reuse a lot of our kitchen waste like yogurt pots, loo roll tubes and even egg carton trays. I’ve written a post on our favourite recycled seed starters here if you want more ideas. Today we are using this seed starting set from Amazon because I was given one as a gift from a friend but you don’t need a fancy set, you can use yogurt pots, egg carton tray or any manner of recycled container.

This is the set I was gifted and it’s brilliant for this activity

You could even make your own paper pots. Kids love using these familiar items in a different way. Let them colour or paint them to personalise them even more.

In the set I have, There are green trays for the base. Into that you place a clear plastic cell tray with 12 individual cells to plant in.

The plastic tray and cells are very robust, i had thought they would be single use plastic and very flimsy but there so thick i honestly see them lasting years. I don’t usually like using plastic containers but I do like to reuse the ones I have for as long as I can and i really think these will last a long time. The kit came with a pair of gloves, 2 scoops for moving soil and for replanting seedlings etc. There’s also some really good quality labels so they will last ages and the kids love the little vent on the top so we can control moisture. All in they’re brilliant and i’m so chuffed with my little gift.

Next Step in growing tomatoes

Add your compost.

Seeds come as a self contained little package with everything they need to start into growth. They don’t need anymore nutrients until this ‘package’ is used up as too many nutrients for the developing seedling can deform its growth and quite frankly its a waste of money as the nutrients would simply wash out of the soil.

Growing tomatoes tips for growing with kids
A seed starter with small pods is enough for tomatoes

Seed starting soil needs to be a low nutrients sterile mix so I don’t use your garden soil as this can contain viruses, fungus and lots of nasties like snail eggs that will stop your seeds growing or rot it once its going.

And you don’t want to mistake a weed seedling for your precious tomato and nurture the wrong thing.( Been there, done that, not fun) We used multipurpose compost to fill our pots.

This is a fun activity for the kids to literally get their hands dirty. Its so important for kids to get their hands in the soil and experience its texture and make a connection to the soil. Give them scoops, spoons or mini garden tools and let them have fun scooping and filling the pots.

Label your tomato seedlings, a great way for kids to help

Depending on the size of your starter pots you only want to sow 2 or 3 two seeds on top of each pot.

What tomatoes seeds should I grow with kids?

There’s different kids of tomatoes, it can be confusing but there is different categories. First inside then outside types. Tomatoes like heat so choosing the variety that best fits the conditions is vital to getting the plants to grow.

Tomatoes are broken down into different types from small juicy cherry tomatoes, salad, plum, and the larger beefsteak type.

In my opinion the easiest tomatoes to grow with kids is the cherry varieties that grow on small bushes.

They don’t need much work. You can fit them in a pot on the table if you don’t have a garden but they will grow lots of sweet tiny tomatoes your kids will love.

cover seedlings in a small layer of compost.

This is the varieties we started with. This year we are growing these ones.
Check out the end of this post for tips on growing tomatoes when you’ve no seeds

Now tuck in your growing tomato seeds.

Cover the seeds with a thin layer of multipurpose or seed compost and gently press down to level the surface.

Use bottle tops as seed labels.

Label your seeds.

Now label your seeds. All tomato plants look the same so if you’re sowing seeds, its important to label them so you know what plant needs what care.

This can be a fun activity for kids too. Use plastic spoons, lolly sticks, paint small pebbles or even slice up some plastic containers and make labels. In the past we’ve used bottle caps to write the names on. it works!

This year we’ve used the labels that come with the kit.

Reduce plastic and reuse to make a watering can
A watering can made from a milk jug up a fab way to water seedlings

There big so you could let the kids colour and design them.

Give your kids a misting bottle or watering can and let them gently wet the soil surface. You want the compost to feel wet to the touch but not soaking wet. (You can use a milk jug with holes popped in the top as a make shift watering can if you don’t have one)

Encourage the kids to check each day and keep the soil damp….not soggy. Encourage them to use their finger to test the corner of the soil to see if its dry or wet.

Mini greenhouse set for sowing seeds is great fun for kids
Cover your seeds and place somewhere warm.

Let them grow
Set your seed pots in a warm indoor space. We use a shelf above a radiator as tomatoes need warm air to germinate well. Place a plastic bag over the seeds to keep the moisture in if you want to although its not essential. We our fantastic little set, the trays come with these ventilated roofs to act like mini green houses.

I didn’t hold out much hope for this set if I’m honest but now we have it out of the box i’m very impressed. The plastic is thick and durable. We will get a good few growing seasons out of it. The little vent will be wonderful for helping manage the moisture levels too. Little AJ loves the little scoops too. Well made and sturdy. If you want your own set try here..

How long does growing tomatoes take?

After around a week your seeds will begin to sprout tiny green leaves. At this point you want to move them to a sunny windowsill of even your grow box.

Your seedlings will love the full light and grow strongly thrive in a warm spot with lots of sunlight.

Soon you will have tasty tomatoes

Once your seedlings reach about 12cm tall or you see roots appearing at the bottom of the container, gently teach your kids to knock the pot upside down into your hand and move the plant with its tightly packed roots into a slightly larger pot. This time use mostly your multipurpose soil but you can also start to add a little garden soil letting your plants start to get familiar with the soil they will eventually grow in.

Keep potting on the tomatoes into a pot a little bigger every time you seed white roots poking out of the bottom of the pot.

Looking ahead for your growing tomatoes

Once the weather has improved and you have no frosts, you can begin the process of hardening off your plants and get them ready for their new home outside, in a hanging basket or maybe you will keep them on a patio or conservatory.

Learn How to care for your seedlings

Tomatoes need a lot of food once you start seeing flowers appear. You can buy a good tomato feed which just gets diluted and watered on. We also use our own homemade comfrey plant food.

Comfrey Tea Recipe Chop up loads of comfrey leaves into a container and soak in water for 6 weeks with a lid on. Afterwards you will have super stinky brown liquid you can drain off, dilute to a week tea colour and water your fruiting plants for FREE? YUP! You heard me.) FREEEEE!
Your plants will grow fast when they get near the light so get your kids to make a measure tape or stick so keep track. Other tasks they can do while your plants grow.

Keep kids interested in your growing tomatoes by

  • Encourage them to check the water each day. Tomatoes like damp soil but they don’t like to sit in a puddle
  • If your keeping your tomatoes inside, you will need to pollinate the flowers yourself. Give the kids a paintbrush and let them ‘tickle’ the yellow flowers and they will spread the pollen from flower to flower, learn what pollination in and help grow juicy tomatoes. What better lesson is there? Just remind them to be gentle.

Growing tomatoes is a lot of work and its tricky to keep kids interested while the bush grows but with a little help you can encourage kids to love growing.

No seed? No problem.

Why not get your kids to grow tomatoes from a slice of tomato? This is a fun way to grow tomatoes with kids is to

  1. Place a slice on top of potting mix in a small pot or container.
  2. Cover the tomato slice with about 2 or 3cm of soil and pat down.
  3. Cover the container with plastic wrap for warmth and moisture and put on the windowsill like the instructions above.
  4. Within a week, you should see your tomato start to sprout. Just follow the same.steps as above.

So, there is our simple guide to growing tomatoes with kids. I’d love to see your pictures or comments below.

Some Fun Facts About Tomatoes

  • Tomatoes are a fruit
  • Are Not Always Red, they can be yellow, black, orange even tiger stripped.
  • Tomatoes Have Been to Space.
  • There is a huge amount of vitamins in tomatoes that actually increase if you cook them.
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