Tomatoes, scientific name Solanum lycopersicum, are one of the most popular vegetables to cross the table. With thousands of varieties to choose from, tomatoes can be grown in greenhouses, gardens, containers and even indoors. Tomatoes are typically classified according to size and use, including slicing, paste and cherry varieties. Whether eaten raw, stewed, grilled, sautéed or drank as juice, tomatoes are popular in nearly every culture.
The tomato seed is both beginning and end of the plant's life cycle. Seeds form inside the tomato, covered with gelatinous membranes for protection. Once tomatoes are harvested, seeds can be removed and cleaned in preparation for planting. Each seed contains an embryo, surrounding by a layer of endosperm, or cotyledons. Seeds germinate, or sprout, within seven to 14 days of planting.
During the germination process, the seed absorbs moisture and nutrients from the soil and begins to form the plant. When the seed coating reaches full capacity, it breaks open and reveals the root, also known as the radicle, which emerges deep into the soil. As the radicle grows downward, the cotyledons form the plumule, which contains the stem and first leaves of the tomato plant.
New Plant Growth
After germination, the tomato plant begins to establish vegetative growth. The root structure continues to develop, branching out beneath ground level, sending out new shoots to absorb moisture and nutrients and build a strong base to support the vegetation. Above ground, the stem begins to broaden, anticipating bearing fruit. Several sets of true leaves develop and form branches and flower buds.
Once the flower buds develop and open, the tomato plant is ready for pollination. Tomato plants are self-fertilizing, but not self-pollinating. Pollination will only occur if the pollen is loosened from the male anthers and reaches the female carpel inside each bloom. Tomatoes grown outdoors get assistance from nature, in the form of winds and flying insects that help free the pollen and deliver it to its destination.
When pollination is successful, the fruits of the tomato plant begin to form. The bloom opens fully, fertilizes itself, then dies off, leaving behind the ovaries which will become the actual tomatoes. It can take from 45 to 80 days from formation to harvest, depending upon the variety of tomato. If fruit is left on the plants too long, they can fall off and begin to rot.
End of Season
Once the growing season is complete, and all fruits have ripened, the tomato plants begin to die off. Tomatoes should be rotated every three years, therefore plants and debris are removed from the planting location in preparation for the next season's crop.