For many gardeners, tomatoes are the essential crop in the kitchen garden, the summer fruit eaten fresh that justifies spring's earthy labors. The vast array of tomato varieties is a clear signal of their popularity and ease of cultivation. The best temperatures for tomato growth are between 65°F and 80°F. A site with a minimum of 4 hours of direct sun is essential to harvest fruit.
Plants that grow lushly, but provide no fruit often do not receive enough sun or have been given too much nitrogen. Tomatoes require well-drained, loose soil of moderate fertility. Warm soil is also critical to getting transplants off to a quick start.
To warm cold soil, lay black plastic over the tomato bed two weeks before the intended planting date. Remove it at planting time or slit it to accommodate the transplants. Space plants 4 to 6 feet apart, a distance that should help keep foliage dry and lessen the impact of water-borne diseases that turn green tomato leaves yellow and then brown. Transplant seedlings 2 to 6 inches deeper than they were growing in their pots (removing leaves as necessary), either by putting them straight in the hole or in a shallow, long trench on their sides. Provide plant support at the time of transplanting. Side dress with a fertilizer formulated for tomatoes after the first fruits appear.
Tomato plants are available beginning in late April.