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Photos and descriptions of Dr. DeLeo's great experiment to grow tomatoes indoors during the winter, and produce a tasty fruit.

The Great Tomato Experiment
Lehigh University, Academic Year 2010-2011
Grade K Through Senior Citizen
Hi! I'm Dr. DeLeo, a professor of physics at Lehigh University. In addition to loving science, I also love the tomatoes I grow in the summer. However, I find that tomatoes purchased in a supermarket, especially in the winter months, are tasteless. So, I embarked on a great experiment - to determine if someone inept at caring for plants could grow tomatoes indoors during the winter!
I began with seeds I harvested (i.e., took) from my patio tomato plant in late September, 2010. I planted the seeds in a little container, and then re-planted them into plastic cups, as shown on the left.

After completing more than two dozen, I placed them inside on a table with a light strapped underneath. During the daytime, they resided on top of the table, by a window facing south. When it got dark, I would move them to the floor where they were exposed to two small plant lights. The light was turned off at bedtime. I felt it was time to transplant some of them when they reached the size shown in the photo on the lower right.


So, as you can see from the photo to the left and those below, I moved some of them - eight to be precise - into a variety of larger pots. I lined the bottoms with small stones, and then filled the pots with potting soil. This took place in late October. Six of those remained in my house, three upstairs and three downstairs, all by south-facing windows.

I purchased a ferocious guard cat to watch over my baby tomato plants! As before, all were by south-facing windows. The light was supplemented by a fluorescent plant light and daylight compact fluorescents. (Next time, I will purchase the right kind of lighting.)
The remaining two plants were placed on south-facing window sills in the physics building (Lewis Lab) at Lehigh University. These are shown below in photos taken in late November. Others (still in the plastic cups) were given throughout the remainder of 2010 to many who felt as I do about the shortcomings of winter tomatoes. Some of these were given to our hard-working (but fun loving) physics graduate students, and many of those plants are doing very well!
The First buds arrived by early December, and many had flowered by the end of December.


Although these tomato plants are "self-pollinating," the pollination process is facilitated by disturbances of the flowers, normally caused by wind and by bees. So, we need to simulate this action. One way is to tap (flick) your finger on the branches. I used this method along with another one.
I used an old electric toothbrush to simulate the disturbance caused by bees (since we have no bees in our house, thank goodness!). Click the play button on the VIDEO on the far right to see pollen spraying out of the flower. Watch closely! (The video repeats this clip three times.)


Tomatoes!! The two photos on the left were taken on January 1st, 2011. Can you believe it? Real tomatoes!! But, will they grow and turn red?


Through the cold and snowy months of January and February, they continued to grow and produce new flowers and new fruit, at my home...

... and in the physics building...


One of the six plants at my home was discarded at the end of February. It grew very tall, but failed to produce a significant number of viable buds, and no flowers appeared.


It happened on February 20th - the first sign of a change in color! And the change in color proceeded rapidly to the rich red color of a ripe tomato! The last photo in this set, on the lower right below, shows two other tomatoes rapidly changing color. Note that these indoor plants took about twice as long to mature as similar plants grown outdoors in the summer.


The great day of picking and eating the first tomato occurred on February 27th. The honor of picking the tomato went to my wife. (I didn't want to mess it up!) It was then examined by my wife, and her sister (holding the tomato in the photo on the far right).

Of course, a moment of such profound importance must be recorded as a VIDEO, which can be viewed by clicking the play button on the left photo.

Boo and I also examined the tomato.

The VIDEO on the right shows my wife slicing the tomato.

I insisted on being the first to try the tomato... to make sure it was safe for consumption by the other family members present in my home at that time - my wife, sister-in-law, and son. IT WAS DELICIOUS!!
The story ends here, but only temporarily. I will return to describe the progress of other tomatoes, from my plants and those of others. And, I will perform "surgery" (examine the root systems, etc.) on the plants once they have finished producing tomatoes. Stay tuned!


CONTINUING the story in March of 2011... The Physics Department tomatoes ripened and were ready for picking. The honor of picking the first Physics tomato went to Rachael Roettenbacher, who was impressed by the quality of the product!
Department secretaries, Lois Groff and Pam Rodweller were given the honor of slicing and eating the first of these tomatoes.


The next tomato was given to a graduate student, as determined by a raffle.
As graduate students tensely awaited the drawing, Department Chair, Professor Volkmar Dierolf, made a quick phone call to verify rules for the drawing.
Adhering to a strict interpretation of the rules, which indicated that the holder of the box could only be photographed below the upper lip, Pam drew the winning slip from the box held by Professor Dierolf. And the winner was... Jingyu Wang! Since she wasn't present, we arranged a drawing for the next tomato to become ripe, but only for graduate students who were present. And the winner of this second tomato was Kebra Ward!


And so ends the Great Tomato Experiment of 2010-2011. Well, sort of... since they are still producing tomatoes! And they may continue to do so throughout the summer of 2011! Have a nice summer!


I hope you have enjoyed this web presentation as much as we enjoyed sharing the actual learning experience with your son or daughter. Although we have endeavored to exclude photographs where permission has been denied, it is possible for errors to occur. If you would like us to remove a photograph of your son or daughter for any reason, please send me an e-mail message at or call me at 610-758-3413, and we will remove it promptly. Please note that we will never associate a child's full or last name with a photograph except in circumstances where special permission was explicitly provided. Thank you. Gary DeLeo.

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Copyright © 2009 Gary G. DeLeo and Kristen D. Wecht, Lehigh University