Want to bite into your first homegrown tomato soon? Here are four easy ways to speed the harvest. Normally, tomatoes are planted at least two weeks after the last frost, but with steps 2 and 3, you can cheat the calendar. If you live where the weather is already warm, step 1 is all you need for early tomatoes.
2. Plant early and protect from the cold. You can mail-order commercial items such as Wall-O-Water or row covers to provide cold protection for tomato plants set out early. You also can make your own protection by simply cutting the bottom out of a plastic gallon milk jug and placing it over the plant until the weather warms. (Be sure to remove the top for ventilation.) Place a stake by the plant and slip the jug over the stake to keep it from blowing off.
3. Plant early and warm the soil. Plant your tomato in a row covered with clear plastic so that sunlight warms the soil under the plastic. Later you can cover the plastic with straw mulch to block sunlight, keeping the soil from getting too hot. Cut planting holes in the plastic and set plants through them. Be sure the soil is well watered. Drip irrigation or a soaker hose comes in very handy here to be sure that water gets to the roots under the plastic.
4. Spray plants with Blossom Set spray. This optional hormone spray will cause fruit to set earlier. You’ll find it at some garden centers, or you can order it online.