Tomatoes are one of the most commonly grown garden plants in the United States. Whether grown commercially, in backyard gardens, or in containers on balconies and porches, tomatoes grow everywhere. In spite of the hundreds of varieties of tomato plants, the tomato develops in the same manner for all of them.
The development of the tomato fruit starts with the flower. As an angiosperm, tomatoes produce flowers for the sole purpose of creating and ultimately distributing seeds. The fruit of the tomato plant is the tomato itself, which houses the seeds until they are ready for distribution. The process begins when the flower is pollinated. Typically, the flowers grow in clusters of four or five. Once pollinated, the yellow, cone-shaped flowers will display bruises along the cone left by the visiting bee.
Following pollination, the petals of the flower drop off. At the truss where the flower once grew, a small, pea-like fruit, green in color, will begin to grow. An additional 45 to 50 days will pass before the fruit is mature. As each flower is pollinated, the process is repeated. Not all flowers will be pollinated.
The developing fruit requires warm weather and plenty of water to develop properly. Signs of pest or disease should be dealt with quickly before the entire plant or crop is affected. The tomato remains green during this phase. It is firm to the touch. Tomatoes growing closest to the stem will develop first, producing the largest fruits.
As the tomato matures, it grows in size. Depending upon the variety of tomato, it can be small, as with a cherry tomato, or large, weighing more than a pound in the case of a beefsteak tomato. Some varieties have unusual colors when mature, but the majority pass through the same color change phases from green to white, then yellow followed by orange, light red and finally deep red.
Tomatoes are fully developed when they have achieved a dark red color evenly spread around the fruit. These tomatoes have the fullest flavor. However, circumstances may prevail that require earlier harvesting. Transport to a marketplace may require several days of travel. In this case, the tomato may be harvested anytime from the pink stage on. Also, some people prefer to fry green tomatoes and subsequently they can be picked at that stage for that purpose.