Tomatoes are technically fruits, but the are cooked and eaten as vegetables. Tomatoes are eaten raw in salads, or cooked in sauces and stews. There are many varieties of heirloom and hybrid tomatoes, with various levels of acidity and tanginess. Despite the species of tomato, every variety of tomato plant goes through the same stages of development.
The tomato seed is the beginning and end of the life stages of the tomato plant. The seed comes from the gelatinous material inside the chambers of the tomato. Before the seed is planted, it must dry out for several days.
When the tomato seed is surrounded by moist soil or moist paper towels, it sprouts a small, spindly green stalk with two tiny leaves. This process is called "germination." This germinated sprout will eventually be the top of the large tomato plant when the plant is grown.
Tomato plants produce developing buds on stem branches. Developing buds look like long, green trumpet-shaped cups. These developing buds generally develop in clusters of three or more.
The developing buds give rise to immature flowers. The flower petals are developed and visible through the openings of the green cups. Immature flowers are not open.
After it has developed, the immature flower opens and is then referred to as a mature flower. The tomato blossoms are yellow, with yellow anthers in the center. Only three to five mature flowers should be allowed to remain in clusters. Clusters of more than three to five put stress on the branches.
Bees pollinate tomato plants. A gardener can tell a tomato flower has been fertilized if the anthers appear stripped or bruised. Bees hold on to the anthers and affect the surface in the process.
Each flower indicates a position where a tomato will ultimately grow. The blossoms wither away and fall off, and small pea-sized tomato fruits start growing in their place. At this point, the tomato plant is said to have "set fruit."
When tomatoes are green and growing, they are referred to as immature fruit. At this point, they are too green to harvest and eat. In time, the tomatoes' color will go from green to yellow to orange and red.
Tomatoes are deep orange red when they are matured to ripeness. At this point, the fruit is picked from the tomato plant. The tomatoes can be eaten fresh, or cooked and canned for storage.