image by Logan Ingalls/Flickr.com
The tomato is a herbaceous, perennial fruit-producing plant that is usually grown so the tomatoes that grow on the plant can be picked and eaten. According to the University of Illinois, tomatoes were once considered to be poisonous and were grown only for ornamental value. Now, tomatoes are the most popular garden vegetable in America.
Plant tomatoes from seeds or from existing plants. Planting tomatoes from existing plants purchased from a nursery will yield tomatoes more quickly and can be planted outside in late spring or early summer. Tomatoes should be planted from seeds starting indoors as early as six weeks before the last frost date for your area, then moved outside when they are 8 weeks old--two weeks after any danger of frost.
Prepare your soil if you are starting your tomato plant from seed. If you would rather purchase plants at your local nursery, skip to Step 4. Fill a small planting container with seed starting mix. Purchase plant containers and seed-starting mix at your local nursery or gardening store. Place three to five tomato seeds about a quarter inch into the soil and press down gently so the dirt is firm. Cover the pot with a plastic bag to seal in moisture for about 10 days, until the plant sprouts.
Place the sprouted tomato seed under a light source. The ideal environment is a temperature-controlled greenhouse. But if you do not have this, placing it under a florescent light source or a warm, sunny window will suffice. Weed out smaller plants so that only the largest, healthiest plants remain. Plant seedlings in the garden when they are approximately 5 inches tall and appear healthy.
Place your tomato plant in the garden. Before planting, remove a third of the dirt in the planting area and replace it with an equal amount of starter fertilizer, which you can purchase at your local nursery. Mix thoroughly with a rake. Dig a hole large enough to comfortably hold the root ball of your tomato plant, and place each plant 15 inches apart, then place a stake into the ground against each plant.
Harvest tomatoes frequently, at least every two days, during the hotter summer months, and as needed during cool spring months. A tomato is ready to be picked when it has reached a uniform red color and has a slight give when it is squeezed.