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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.

1.  Choose an early-maturing variety

Try Early Girl (50 days), Bush Early Girl (54 days), Juliet (60 days), Celebrity (65 days), Husky Cherry Red (65 days), or Super Sweet 100 (65 days).

2.  Plant early and protect from the cold

You can online-order commercial items such as Wall-O-Water or row cover fabric 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 cap on 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 soil covered with clear plastic to help the sunlight warm the soil. Later, you can cover the plastic with straw mulch to block sunlight so the soil doesn’t get too hot. Cut a planting hole in the plastic and set the plant through into the soil. 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. To help protect tomato plants from developing blossom end rot once they begin to produce fruit, mix a continuous-release fertilizer with calcium, such as Miracle-Gro® Shake ‘n Feed® Tomato, Fruit & Vegetable Plant Food, in with the soil at planting (be sure to follow label directions). Consider planting your tomato in a pot filled with premium quality potting mix, such as Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix, and placing it in a sunny spot near the house so you’ll be reminded to check on it daily.

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.

Use a milk jug to create a cloche that protects plants from cold.
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.
Use plastic to warm the ground when planting.
Plant your tomato in a row covered with clear plastic so that sunlight warms the soil under the plastic.

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