How to Grow Tomatoes in Your Apartment

Emily Jubenvill offers step-by-step instructions for starting your own urban edible estate. Here, she grows tomatoes in her condo windowsill.

Credit: Emily Jubenvill

Growing tomatoes on your windowsill is easy and rewarding.

After finishing my degree, I moved to Vancouver. It was the first time I’d ever signed a lease for more than four months (university students run on short-term circuits); terrified at the time, I figured that I would make the best of it and “settle in.”

The seed catalogues arrived a few weeks after we moved in. My roommate Miranda’s response to the catalogues was simple: “What do you think you’re going to do with those seeds?” “Plant them.” “Where?” “On the window sills.” “You’re crazy.” Miranda exists stage left. Emily shrugs shoulders and smiles.

Emily's edible estate

We made a pact; she was willing to observe my urban agriculture experiment as long as she wasn’t required to eat any of the vegetables. The seeds were ordered, they arrived, and the planning began.

Despite the atrocious lack of community garden plots in the West End, I was determined that by March I would have a space to transplant my beans, peas, cucumber, zucchini, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, artichokes, eggplant, broccoli and squash. March became April, and then May—by this point, every flat surface of our apartment was occupied by some yogurt container or another sprouting some kind of vegetable. Losing hope, I began to give them away—one of Miranda’s dates even got to walk away with a crisp cucumber plant. Finally, at the end of May, I received word that against all odds I had indeed secured a garden plot! (I’m still convinced that Miranda bribed someone to get those veggies out of the apartment.) I transplanted most of them to the garden but ended up keeping the tomatoes and a few others at home. I had my own edible windowsill-estate.

How to grow tomatoes on a windowsill

seed pouch

Would you like to embrace the edible estate and grow an apartment garden as well? I suggest starting with something easy and rewarding, like a tomato! Here, I offer step-by-step instructions on how to grow tomatoes on your windowsill. Let’s get started!


I prefer West Coast Seeds or Salt Spring Island Seeds because they’re local companies, with varieties proven to grow well in our climate, and they offer many organic and heritage varieties. West Coast packages their seeds in re-sealable packets, which is very handy!

  • Seed packages outline timing for planting, spacing between plants and approximate depth to plant seeds.
  • Determinate varieties grow to a fixed size, and are smaller then indeterminate varieties, so they’re better for container growing.
Fill icecube trays with soil and seeds


You can buy potting or starter soil at any local garden supply store and most grocery stores. I use dirt from my worm composter, and the seedlings love it.


Fill up the tray with soil (pack it down a bit), and plant your seeds! I label the tray with a marker to make sure that I know what’s what.


Seeds like to be warm! My windowsills are cold, so I leave my trays on the floor near the heating vents until they sprout. They don’t need sun yet because they don’t photosynthesize until they sprout leaves!


After a while, the seeds will germinate and two little leaves will pop up. This indicates that it is time to transplant your seedling out of the ice-cube tray and into a bigger container. I like to use yogurt containers because I have lots of them around the house, but you can also buy containers at a garden store.


Young plants should receive at least 4 hours of sunlight a day

Try to keep soil consistently moist in the ice cube trays and after transplanting. Yogurt containers don’t have good drainage (unless you poke holes in the bottom), so make sure that you’re not drowning your plants by sticking your finger a few inches into the soil to test for moisture instead of relying on the very top layer.


Direct sunlight can be a bit harsh for most seedlings. Just make sure that they’re on a shelf or windowsill that gets at least four hours of sunlight a day.


Transplant the plant once it reaches 10-20 cm

Once your tomato has grown to 10–20 centimetres tall, you’re going to need to transplant it out of the yogurt container. If you take a close look at the main stem, you’ll see that it is really hairy! These hairs are actually the beginnings of roots, so if you cover them in dirt they will turn into real roots, which will help your tomato get all the nutrients and water that it needs to produce amazing fruit.

These hairs are actually the beginnings of roots

You’ll also need a much bigger container for this transplant; tomatoes like to have about 50 cm deep of soil, so keep that mind when you’re picking a pot. Dig a hole deep enough that only the top 3–4 cm of the seedling is above the soil—the rest gets covered up and transformed into a wicked root system.


It may seem like your seedlings growth has halted, but fear not! They’re just busy getting their roots in place. Within a couple weeks action will start to happen above ground, too. Keep watering, and use sticks or a wire cage to stake the tomatoes as they grow. Enjoy!

A tomato plant growing tall

New Blog!

Read more from Emily Jubenvill on