Are you already dreaming of the first tomato of the summer? What if that ripe, juicy tomato came from your own backyard? I’ve got several tomato growing tips you can use to get your tomatoes off to a better start so you can harvest tomatoes earlier than your neighbors.
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Choose early varieties
One of the best ways to get a jump on the tomato season is to plant early varieties. Tomatoes such as Burpee Early Girl tend to take less time to mature, thus allowing you to pick and eat tomatoes sooner. A few popular varieties include:
Most home improvement stores and gardening centers will have at least one early variety of tomato to suit your growing area. I usually plant a couple early tomatoes and then choose other varieties to suit my needs. If you choose to plant all early varieties, you won’t have tomatoes late in the season.
Smaller Tomatoes Ripen Sooner
You can also choose smaller tomatoes as they tend to ripen quicker. Cherry and grape varieties take less time to fully mature than slicer tomatoes, so you will be able to harvest tomatoes earlier. Varieties to try include:
Plant Your Tomatoes in a Trench
Another way to get your tomatoes off to a great start is to plant the tomato plant in a trench. (See pictures above.) To do this, dig a trench in the dirt 3-4 inches deep. Pinch off all but the top few clusters of leaves.
Lay the plant down in the trench and gently turn the tip up. Cover with dirt, being careful not to break the stem. It may be helpful to make a dirt “pillow” for the top of the stem. For a day or two the tomato may look like it is growing at an angle, but it will quickly straighten up. If cutworms are a problem in your area, be sure to place a stick in the ground beside the stem.
This technique is especially helpful for northern gardens whose soil is slow to warm up. The plant will put out roots all along the buried stem creating a larger root system. Since more roots are closer to the top of the ground, the sun will warm them quicker. The additional warmth will stimulate the plant to start growing. (And the sooner it grows, the quicker you can start harvesting tomatoes to eat!?)
Planting in a trench can also be effective for gardeners with clay soil. Clay tends to be very compact and difficult for the roots to penetrate. The roots don’t have to work as hard to get the same amount of moisture since there are more of them along the stem. Be sure to mulch the ground around the plant once the temperatures climb into the mid-eighties.
A word of caution: Don’t try the trench method if you are planting in containers. The shallow depth will cause the tomato plant to dry out sooner. Most of the time, the soil in the containers warms up quickly anyway since the containers are above ground.
Use red plastic mulch to harvest tomatoes earlier
There have been studies that have shown that using red plastic mulch will help increase the ripening of your tomatoes to allow you to harvest tomatoes earlier. The plastic works by reflecting red light back to the plants. I also think that the plastic warms the soil up and helps hold in moisture so the plant grows faster too.
For more information on how to harvest tomatoes earlier
For more information on harvesting tomatoes earlier, I highly recommend Dick Raymond’s Joy of Gardening Book. It was first published in 1983 but many of his tips and tricks are still applicable to today. I am fortunate to have my mother’s copy. After all, gardening really hasn’t changed all that much over the years.
How to enjoy that first tomato
By choosing early varieties and planting tomatoes in a trench, you can harvest tomatoes several weeks earlier than normal. I plant about half of my tomatoes in a trench and the other half I plant as normal. This gets some off to a quicker start, but also allows some to take their time so I have tomatoes later in the season as well.
When you harvest that first tomato, be sure to snap a picture of it before you indulge. This way you can brag to all the neighbors about how you harvested the first tomato in the neighborhood. But I highly recommend eating it while standing in the garden. Nothing says summer better than a sun-warmed tomato dripping juice down your chin on a bright summer day.
If you want to know some other ways to get your tomatoes (and other vegetables) growing quicker, check out my post on Tips to Get Your Garden Started Earlier.
Share your favorite tomatoes
Have you ever planted tomatoes? What is your favorite variety? If you grow some this year I would love for you to share your pictures with me. You can tag me on Instagram at @dogwoodsanddandelions.