Want to grow the earliest tomato on the block? Follow these tips from garden expert Melinda Myers to plant your tomatoes up to a month earlier than usual—and harvest that much earlier, too!
Be the first on your block to harvest a red ripe tomato with these simple steps. Grow an early ripening variety like Early Girl, Fourth of July, or Tidy Treats that produces fruit earlier than most tomato
Further shorten the time to harvest by using some simple techniques to warm the soil and air. You’ll be able to plant as much as a month earlier than normal if you do this. And thanks to the early start and warmer conditions your plants will start flowering and fruiting sooner. And once the soil is prepared, you can start warming the soil.
For large areas cover with clear plastic or a floating row cover for two weeks. Watch the soil temperatures rise and the weed seeds sprout. Lightly cultivate to remove those weeds without bringing more weed seeds to the surface.
For smaller areas use a commercial or homemade cloche–a translucent cover that traps heat around the plants like a mini greenhouse. A plastic milk jug with the bottom removed works well for individual seedlings.
Place the cloche over the planting location for a week or two prior to planting. Plant the tomato plant in the warm soil and cover with the cloche to protect the plant from cold air temperatures. You can also wrap tomato cages with clear plastic to create a mini greenhouse. Or use other commercial season extenders or floating row covers to keep the air around the plants warm.
Ventilate closed cloches on warm days by opening vents or removing the milk jug cap. No need to remove floating row covers as they allow air and water through while keeping plants warm. Remove covers once night temperatures are consistently in the fifties.
Further speed up the process by training your tomatoes on a stake. Staking requires a little more work, produces fewer fruit, but you’ll have fewer disease problems and the earliest harvest on the block.
Enlist additional soil warming strategies with red plastic, mulch, or tomato boosters. The red encourages productivity and both keep soil warm to encourage rooting while speeding growth and fruiting.
Your extra effort will pay off with an earlier harvest. You’ll soon be enjoying garden fresh tomatoes in salads, as snacks, in your favorite recipe, and on your BLTs.
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