It all boils down to the tomato, doesn’t it. You can have the biggest cabbages, the sweetest strawberries or the tallest corn. But if you have the first ripe tomatoes, you are the champion of the garden world.
The tomato is the most sought after “vegetable” in the garden. When it comes to tomatoes, you can’t fake home grown. The tomatoes that you find in the grocery store are bred to travel well, not to have the taste and texture that we all crave. BUT WE’RE IMPATIENT! We want the taste of summer! We want TOMATOES NOW! So how do we get the first ripe tomatoes possible? Here are 6 steps to help you have the earliest tomato harvest in town.
The most important thing you can do to insure the speedy ripening of that luscious, drip off your chin nectar of the gods is to choose your seeds wisely. You may want to grow those long season heirlooms, and I recommend you do. In fact if you have room, a variety of different types, sizes, flavors and dates of maturity is a good idea. But to have the first ripe tomato, you need an early maturing variety. When looking in the seed catalog or on seed packets, check the number of days to maturity. The smaller the number the sooner you will be enjoying that first tomato sandwich. But remember, the date in the catalog is from setting out transplants not the time from planting the seed. You can check the description for words like “early” and “cold hardy” as well.
Early Girl – 59 – Touted as one of the best flavored of the early tomatoes and very reliable.
Celebrity – 72 – Larger than some other early tomatoes and with more disease resistance.
Roma – 76 – A plum tomato. Also disease resistant and prolific.
Moskvich – 60 – This is a good open pollinated variety.
Juliet – 60 – Produces gobs of 2″ long fruit with a sweet pleasing flavor.
Tomatoberry – 60 – The taste is classic tomato in a smaller package.
Patio Princes – 65 – I’ve never see such a small plant produce so much fruit. Put it in a medium sized pot and you will easily get 50 tomatoes.
Want even more suggestions regarding which are the best varieties for your situation? Check out Epic Tomatoes. The author has grown more than 200 varieties of tomatoes and is an expert on them.
To have the first ripe tomato, you must also start your tomatoes earlier than everyone else. The normal time to plant is 6 weeks before you want to set them out. So you may want to start yours 8 to 10 weeks earlier. This will require a seed starting set up such as a grow light for 10 or more hours a day and even a heat mat as tomatoes like to germinate at about 70° to 80°. Then grow them at 60° to 70°. If you start them this early, plan on repotting them once or maybe even twice to larger pots to accommodate the growing roots.
Your soil in the garden will stay cold for a long time. Tomatoes don’t like cold feet (ahem..roots). There are a few ways you can accommodate your tomatoes dislike of a cold bed. (can’t really blame them. I don’t like a cold bed ether) One is with raised beds. Raised beds and containers warm up faster than a flat garden bed. Another way is to use plastic mulch. Clear plastic lets the suns rays through to warm the soil just like when you are solarizing. Or you can use the red plastic mulch. Tomatoes are proven to do especially well when the red plastic mulch is used. DON’T use organic mulches around your tomatoes early in the spring as they keep the soil cold and damp, encouraging fungus, which tomatoes are quite susceptible to anyway.
Remember when choosing a site, it needs to get at least 8 hours a day of direct sun light. 10 or 12 is even better.
A couple of weeks before you plan to put them in the ground start setting them outside. Begin with a couple of hours per day and increase the time outside a little each day.This gets them used to the air temperature, the wind and the direct sun light. Make sure you don’t put them out if you have freezing temperatures.
Since you are trying for the first ripe tomato on your block, it will still be a bit cold when you set them outside. If they are in a pot you can bring them inside at night, but if they are in the garden you will need to protect them from the cold. Remember, tomatoes are a warm weather plant and they don’t like the cold. You can use a cold frame, Wall O Water or pop-up tomato accelerator. You can also put your tomato in a garden tower. These can be wrapped with clear plastic until the days warm up or covered with blankets at night. Yes to have the first ripe tomatoes you will need to baby them a little bit.
Your tomato plants need to be held up off the ground. The leaves and fruit need the sun to reach them to help your tomatoes grow strong and ripen. And your tomato plant needs to be off the cold wet ground. If not you will stress your plant and make it more susceptible to fungus and disease. If you don’t use a garden tower type holder, Make sure it is very sturdy like a tomato ladder and tie the vines up with pantyhose or T-shirt material. They are stretchy and will not damage the plant like plastic or string can.
Learn more about growing great tomatoes;
And Have A Ducky Day!