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When to plant for the earliest ripe tomato

Ripening tomatoes

We enjoyed our first ripe tomato on the summer solstice from the plant that Daddy started ultra-early (on the left above).  But our second tomato is probably going to come from our own Stupice (on the right above), started inside nearly two months later at the end of February.

String trained tomatoThe big question for tomato-lovers is --- what's the happy compromise between starting your plants early enough to beat your neighbors to the first fruits, but not so early you're babying a plant that should have been in the ground weeks ago?  For us, it looks like the end of February is a pretty good time for starting tomatoes if I'm willing to pot up and nurture them a bit, netting ripe tomatoes up to three weeks earlier than if I'd started the seeds under quick hoops at the beginning of April (my previous, lazy technique).  For the sake of comparison, here's a quick rundown on when we've enjoyed our first ripe tomato in previous years:

Since blight seems to be hitting us early most of the time now, jumping the gun with inside-started tomatoes might be my new method for the foreseeable future.  We're already racing septoria leaf spot and the first signs of early blight, but I'm hopeful heavy pruning will keep the fungi at bay long enough to fill up our soup stores and to sate me on tomatoes.

In case you want to boast about the earliest tomato on your block next year, here's a guest post on growing the earliest possible tomato and here's some information on how cold temperatures can keep early-planted tomatoes from setting fruit.  Good luck making your neighbors jealous!



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