Tomatoes are fruits that are commonly mistaken for vegetables and in ancient times were even considered to be poisonous. Reintroduced to the palettes of Europeans by the early explorers, the tomato began to gain in popularity once it was realized that the tales of toxic tomatoes were, just that, tales. The interest in tomatoes began to boom during the 1900s in America, and they have been respected members of the produce community ever since. But as delicious as tomatoes are from the local supermarket, nothing beats the taste of a home-grown tomato. Most gardeners have great success growing their own tomato crops, but how and when to plant them is the most important consideration.
Begin planting the tomato seeds in trays over the winter season. Seed tray kits are inexpensive, and convenient, and will allow you to start growing your seedlings indoors, in spite of the weather outside.
Transfer the seedlings that are beginning to outgrow the seed trays into 3-inch pots. When the tomato seedlings begin to grow in height and width, it is time to give them more room. In order to accommodate their expanding root system, a 3-inch pot should be used. Place the pots in an area that receives plenty of sunlight during the day, or use ultraviolet light, and water regularly to keep the soil moist.
Head out to your garden after the final thaw of winter, and start to prepare your garden. Ideally, mid-May is the best time to consider planting outdoors. Soil quality is very important, so add some compost and fertilizer. Break up the soil with a garden rake, and mix in the fertilizer and compost well.
Arrange your tomato pots in the garden approximately 2 feet away from each other. Tomato plants need a lot of room to expand, so you will want to avoid overcrowding. Laying the pots out on top of the prepared soil first will help you decide where to dig the holes.
Remove the pots one at a time, by lifting them up, and digging a hole that is large enough to accommodate the plant and its original soil that is surrounding the root. Continue the process until all of the tomato plants are in the ground and removed from their 3-inch pots.
Support the tomato plants by using wood stakes, or plastic rods. Carefully tie the plant against the stake using twist ties or strips of cloth. If you do not use some type of support system for the tomato plants, they will bend and break with the weight of the growing tomatoes. As a consequence, the tomatoes will usually rot if they lay on the earth for too long.
Water the tomato plants at least once a day during the growing season. Allowing the water to become soaked with a sprinkler or soaker hose creates an ideal growing environment for most tomato plants. In cases of heavy rain, skip watering for that day.
Harvest your tomatoes as they begin to turn deep red. Although, you can also pick them when they are light orange, and keep them on your window sill until they turn red. This way, you can get them before the squirrels do.