For Early Tomatoes, Try This

early tomatoes on vine with cage
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.

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.

Use plastic to warm the ground when planting.

Clear plastic warms the soil to create a more suitable environment for heat-loving tomatoes.

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.

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.