Tomatoes are the favorite vegetable of home gardeners and cooks alike. Originally the tomato was used strictly for its ornamental value since most people considered it poisonous, and the vines, stems and leaves of the tomato plant are toxic. According to Aggie Horticulture, around 1550 A.D. the Italians were the first to recognize the value of tomatoes and use them in cooking.
Get a Jump on the Season
Start the tomatoes from seed indoors for a greater variety and earlier planting. Most tomato transplants aren't available from nurseries until around Memorial Day. The selection may be limited as well. If you start seeds inside six to eight weeks before the average last date of frost, you'll be ahead of the game. Protect the seedlings from any late frosts by covering them with a half-gallon milk or juice container. Cover small seedlings with the bottom of a 2-liter soda bottle.
Try Out New Varieties
Grocery stores mostly have tomatoes that are bred to withstand travel without bruising; taste is secondary. Try the gourmet section of the produce departments for heirloom varieties, orange or yellow tomatoes or cherry tomatoes. These varieties will most likely sprout and bear fruit similar to the parent. It's a way to try different types of tomatoes without having to buy an entire package of seeds.
Sunshine and Shade
Tomatoes need sunshine, at least eight hours a day to fruit and ripen. What isn't well known is that tomatoes benefit from late afternoon shade in areas where the summers are very hot. The blossoms won't set fruit with temperatures much over 90 degrees F. Shading the plants keeps them cooler. The easiest way to do this is by planting where a wall or building provides the afternoon shade.
Consistent Watering is Key
Cracked tomatoes are unattractive and prone to insect damage. The way to avoid the cracking is to keep the soil evenly moist, but not wet. The cracking is from lack of water, so the fruit shrinks slightly. When water is once again available, the fruit swells and bursts the skin. How much to water and when depends on how much natural rain falls, what the humidity is and the temperature. Tomatoes in hot, dry climates with little rainfall will need more supplemental watering than those in cooler, more humid climates.
Change Up the Fertilizer
For the first four to six weeks of the growing season, the tomato is growing mostly vines and leaves. Use a fertilizer high in nitrogen to encourage the leafy growth. Remove any blossoms until the plant is 18 inches high. When that happens switch to a fertilizer made for flowers to encourage more blossoms. There are fertilizers made specifically for tomatoes.