Gardening

All You Need to Grow Tomatoes Are—Wait for it—Tomatoes

You probably already knew this, but just in case you didn't, here's how.

May  7, 2020
Photo by Erin Alexander

All kinds of magic happens in the kitchen. Flour and water become a bubbling, leavening sourdough starter. Beer stands in for yeast in the ultimate homemade pizza dough hack. And vegetable scraps regrow themselves with just a bit of water and sunlight.

Miraculous little tricks like these have earned more appreciation as the days/weeks/months of quarantine continue to drag on. I thought I knew most of them already, but it turns out there's been one sitting right under my nose all this time—and it has me saying, duh, of course this works.

Did you know you can grow tomatoes at home using fresh tomatoes? I know, I know, it's obvious. But it was a revelation to me that you could slice up just about any tomato, plop it in some dirt, shower it with water, sunlight, and lots of love, and—voilà!—after about two weeks you'd have bright-green seedlings ready for replanting.

Even better, this exciting news comes just in time to grow your own for summer (mayo-slicked tomato sandwiches, here you come).

The handy video below shows you how. All you need are fresh tomato slices (cut about 1/4-inch thick), a gardening pot with holes for drainage, and vegetable-friendly potting soil—you can also use a mix, like the one shown in the video. We didn't have any gravel in the house, but my mom (who has the greenest of thumbs and impeccable taste) says you don't necessarily need it.

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Top Comment:
“Just breezed through this article, so maybe you did mention this: most grocery store tomatoes are of a hybrid variety. Unlike our (OG) Heirlooms, these hybrids will not grow the same tomato qualities. Hybrids are rouge. Wonky. Unpredictable. My unsolicited advice: only grow tomatoes from seed with true heirloom varieties if you don't want a shitty tomato crop.”
— Joanne O.
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Fill up the pot almost all the way to the top with your potting soil, leaving a few inches of room, and place your tomato slices directly on the soil, in a circular pattern. Cover the tomato slices with a light layer of soil—you don't want them buried too deep in there. Move the pot to a spot that gets a mix of sun and shade, and water the pot daily so that the soil stays moist (but not drenched).

Those lil' tomato seeds will start to germinate in one to two weeks. According to the video, by day 15 or so, you should have dozens of thriving baby seedlings. You'll want to pick out a few of the strongest-looking seedlings of the bunch and transfer them to a larger pot so they can grow into full-fledged tomato plants. For more tips, check out this short-and-sweet guide from Gardening Know How—and always feel free to post any questions down in the comments below (my mom and I will do our best to answer!).

We planted ours just the other day, so stay tuned to see whether or not they sprout! I've got a good feeling about this...

Have you tried growing tomatoes using this method? Tell us in the comments below!

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Erin Alexander is the Associate Editor at Food52, covering pop culture, travel, foods of the internet, and all things #sponsored. Formerly at Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Us Weekly, and Hearst, she currently lives in New York City.

38 Comments

Carol May 22, 2020
Would it be possible to freeze some tomatoes from this year's crop and use the frozen seeds next year?
 
Smaug May 22, 2020
The seeds would probably survive it, but better to just dry them out and store them in a cool, dark place. Frozen tomatoes are great for sauce, by the way- I still have a few from last year; way, way better flavor than you ever get from canned tomatoes.
 
10,000 more seedlings to go !
 
Brook May 22, 2020
I have been growing tomatoes using this method for 5 years. I’m in zone 7, so I start them late Feb/March under a small grow light & ground them after last frost. You will get A lot of plants from this method! I have done this with “ grape, cherry & heirlooms”- purchased from super market or farmers market. They are indeterminate plants - so they will grow upwards of six feet & produce until its too cold for the plant to survive . Every year , I yielded, hundreds of tasty, beautiful tomatoes. Each plant yielded the same variety as its parent plant, including the heirloom. I honestly wouldn’t go back to seeds or starter plants. While it’s likely too late to use this method in many zones this year- you can archive it for next Feb. Happy planting!
 
Eric A. May 22, 2020
Can I freeze a tomato I grow this year, then next spring thaw, slice and plant it?
 
Brook May 25, 2020
In early November, I pull up the tomato plants -there are always a few runaways. I have never had a tomato plant sprout from the over-wintered seeds that were left behind-so not sure if seeds from a saved thawed tomato would work, but heck give it a go. I’m going to try it .
 
Smaug May 21, 2020
I'm surprised this article popped up again, but desperate times- anyway, yes, it's a bit late to start tomatoes, even in California where we often harvest until Thanksgiving; maybe cherry tomatoes. But plenty of time for squash, which is more a plant kids can appreciate; grows really fast, with giant leaves and flowers (and giant squash if you aren't careful). You'll probably need to buy seeds, or cadge them from a friend- best to soak overnight in warm water, they germinate easily with some warmth. Young plants can be quite productive; I just ate my first zuchs of the season; I'll probably start a second crop in midsummer. One variety I can recommend for pots is Poquito; excellent small, almost spherical fruit and a relatively small plant.
 
Smaug May 21, 2020
I'm surprised this article popped up again, but desperate times- anyway, yes, it's a bit late to start tomatoes, even in California where we often harvest until Thanksgiving; maybe cherry tomatoes. But plenty of time for squash, which is more a plant kids can appreciate; grows really fast, with giant leaves and flowers (and giant squash if you aren't careful). You'll probably need to buy seeds, or cadge them from a friend- best to soak overnight in warm water, they germinate easily with some warmth. Young plants can be quite productive; I just had my first zuchs of the season; I'll probably start a second crop in midsummer. One variety I can recommend for pots is Poquito; excellent small, almost spherical fruit and a relatively small plant.
 
Debreese May 21, 2020
As a long-time tomato gardener, this is a cool idea but could be disappointing in practice. Most tomatoes need a long time to grow before they fruit. If you do this now, you’ll only have tiny seedlings in early June, and then they’ll have several months before they fruit. The seedlings you buy in the stores now were likely started in February to insure enough time for a good harvest before frost. Better off to buy large seedlings now for tomatoes this year and save this for a fun kids project.
 
catherine May 21, 2020
so sorry for the triple post!
it kept just turning grey and didn't show up!
again, i apologize!
 
catherine May 21, 2020
i keep the tomatoes we bring home from the grocery store in a hanging basket by the back patio slider. tomatoes-on-the-vine, usually.
before we can eat them all, there are seedlings growing inside the remaining tomatoes... some even breaking through the skin and growing straight up into the light!
and it's not like it's one or two seeds that have sprouted... it's ALL of them! looks like something out of "alien"!
i have a bachelor of science degree in horticulture, so i knew it wouldn't work, but i planted one of the tomatoes in my big raised bed, figuring that the seedlings would get nutrients from the tomato flesh (as happens with volunteers) and they did grow for a couple of weeks! then, competition got fierce and they all died back...
was fun while it lasted!
 
catherine May 21, 2020
i keep the tomatoes we bring home from the grocery store in a hanging basket by the back patio slider. tomatoes-on-the-vine, usually.
before we can eat them all, there are seedlings growing inside the remaining tomatoes... some even breaking through the skin and growing straight up into the light!
and it's not like it's one or two seeds that have sprouted... it's ALL of them! looks like something out of "alien"!
i have a BS in horticulture, so i knew it wouldn't work, but i planted one of the tomatoes in my big raised bed, figuring that the seedlings would get nutrients from the tomato flesh (as happens with volunteers) and they did grow for a couple of weeks! then, competition got fierce and they all died back...
was fun while it lasted!
 
Rosemary T. May 21, 2020
I didn’t read all the comments and perhaps you posted this in February but if you live in the northeast the only tomatoes you are growing this summer are from plant’s you purchased at a nursery or seeds you started in late winter in the house.
 
Debreese May 21, 2020
Agreed
 
catherine May 21, 2020
i keep the tomatoes we bring home from the grocery store in a hanging basket by the back patio slider. tomatoes-on-the-vine, usually.
before we can eat them all, there are seedlings growing inside the remaining tomatoes... some even breaking through the skin and growing straight up into the light!
and it's not like it's one or two seeds that have sprouted... it's ALL of them! looks like something out of "alien"!
i have a BS in horticulture, so i knew it wouldn't work, but i planted one of the tomatoes in my big raised bed, figuring that the seedlings would get nutrients from the tomato flesh (as happens with volunteers) and they did grow for a couple of weeks! then, competition got fierce and they all died back...
was fun while it lasted!
 
Lauren B. May 21, 2020
This is a fun thing to try but if you’re serious about getting tomatoes, meh. Especially inside. Actually a neighbor was getting rid of an Aerogarden hydroponic grow system so I adopted it, retrofitted it and got Orange Hat Microtomato seeds and we are picking cherry tomatoes that are growing in a windowless bathroom! Excellent flavor although the skins are a little thick. If you are committed to the method described in the article please only use sterile soilless starting mix. Put your seeds on something warm like on top of the fridge cuz germination occurs more swiftly with bottom heat. As soon as they germinate (check ‘em 2x daily) they need to go into intense light and slightly open whatever plastic you had on to keep a humid environment and make it a little more open gradually. As soon as the seedlings have a couple of pairs of leaves you can transplant the # you need. When you do this, plant them deeply, up to the first set of leaves. I use Solo cups with a drainage hole in the bottom that I make with a soldering iron. I reuse these for years. Plant them deep and tomato plants will develop extra roots all along the buried stem. As others have stated, using seeds from a store tomato will get you plants with the traits of the ancestors, it is a crap shoot. Plus the tomatoes are harvested while they are green and while they are in the shipping container they are sprayed with ethylene gas to start the ripening process and seeds need to have thoroughly ripened for them to be viable. Maybe this’ll be better if you get an heirloom tomato from some expensive store...also remember that they really need 6+ hours of full sun to produce fruit. And don’t think that the sprouts you aren’t going to grow can be eaten - TOMATO FOLIAGE IS POISONOUS! LOL sorry this is so long.

If you run a fan on the slowest speed and from far away for an hour or so a day it is less likely you will experience any fungus problems and seedlings’ stems will be more stocky.
 
FS May 21, 2020
OK, now that everyone's vented their spleen about how this method is substandard etc hybrids etc rot, allow me to say this: calm down, guys. Everything ya'll posted is true, but here's something that was overlooked: gardening should be FUN. Growing tomatoes from tomato slices looks like a fun project, I'm going to try it. What's the harm in trying something new? At worst it's not going to work out. I usually grow heirloom and good hybrids from seed, sometimes I'll buy seedlings at the local big box stores. Home Depot and Walmart often carry seedlings of heirloom varieties.
 
BonnieC. May 21, 2020
I think YOU need to calm down & reread the article.

Several posters - myself included - admitted that it would be a fun project, especially for children. But that the article went beyond that - suggesting that it was a way to have tomatoes "just in time to grow your own for summer (mayo-slicked tomato sandwiches, here you come)".

That is simply NOT true on several levels.
 
FS May 21, 2020
I'm perfectly calm. You are not. Don't tell me you get triggered by some good natured ribbing?!
 
William D. May 21, 2020
Just because you can grow tomatoes using this method doesn't mean you should.
 
Joanne O. May 21, 2020
Just breezed through this article, so maybe you did mention this:
most grocery store tomatoes are of a hybrid variety. Unlike our (OG) Heirlooms, these hybrids will not grow the same tomato qualities. Hybrids are rouge. Wonky. Unpredictable.
My unsolicited advice: only grow tomatoes from seed with true heirloom varieties if you don't want a shitty tomato crop.
 
Bill P. May 21, 2020
You can get any tomato to germinate and grow, true, but what are you going to get? If you want to grow a tomato true to its parent you have to start with an open pollinated variety. P.S. over 40 years of growing heirlooms, 20 years teaching, consulting, lecturing. ( also an accomplished cook, chef). Bill P
 
Betty May 21, 2020
Only for heirloom tomatoes, Erin! The average supermarket tomato is a hydrid, and I doubt that you would be happy with the seedlings from such a project.
 
BonnieC. May 21, 2020
This might be a fun experiment to do with/for kids, but it's definitely not an optimum way to produce tomatoes that you'll be proud of & want to eat. Supermarket tomatoes are hybrids specifically bred for shipping resilience & frequently for being greenhouse-friendly, NOT for flavor.

With just a little research and anywhere from $1-$5 or so, you can buy seeds from any number of vendors (both in-store & online) for all sorts of interesting quality tomato varieties in every size, shape, & color imaginable. Not only will you be more likely to experience excellent germination, but any leftover seeds will last a LONG time if the packet is resealed with tape & kept in a cool (room temp is fine), dry, dark location. I grew tomatoes last year from seed I bought TEN years ago, & all but one sprouted!

One other consideration about growing tomatoes from seed - whether or not you can start them from seed now (May) strongly depends on where in the country you live. I live in Virginia (Garden Zone 7a) & start my tomato seeds indoors at the beginning of March in order to have plants large enough to safely go into the ground just around now. Depending on the variety, starting tomato seeds now would most likely not get me fruit much before frost, if that. So be sure to check out the info on the seed packet or online to find the optimum time to start seeds where you live. This goes for peppers & eggplants as well.
 
Linda K. May 11, 2020
I am going to order some seeds from Brad Gates, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/30/dining/tomatoes-climate-change.html Reinventing the Tomato for Survival in a Changing World
 
Konny N. May 10, 2020
About 15 years ago, I bought a packet of mixed variety tomato seeds. One of the resulting tomato plants was wonderful. It produced 80 to 100 plum sized, delicious tomatoes. I have no idea what it is, but I know that it likes heat. I keep one in my greenhouse, and plant more in pots placed next to the house. I “tickle” the blossoms with a finger to get them to pollinate. Each year, I save and dry seeds to plant the following spring. We eat many of them fresh, and give many away. I also freeze these tomatoes whole, and also make sauce and salsa with them.