The length of time it takes for a tomato seed to germinate and grow from a seedling into a plant and then to produce its first tomato varies from one cultivar to another.
For gardeners in much of the United States, the process begins in mid-winter, when seeds are placed in trays indoors, and may continue through the summer and even extend into early fall.
Tomatoes can be classified as early, mid-season or late-season producers. Some growers plant a blend of all three types to have a variety of tomatoes at their disposal.
Descriptions on seed packages and in catalogs often list a maturity time in numbers of days for most varieties of tomatoes. This maturity time is from the time seedlings are transplanted into the soil and does not include germination and early seedling growth. For most tomatoes, seeds germinate in about 7 to 10 days. Seedlings should be a minimum of 3 to 4 weeks old and have at least two pairs of true leaves before being transplanted outdoors.
Early tomatoes are those that produce fruit in 60 days or less from transplant outdoors. When germination and seedling growth are figured in, maximum time from seed to tomato can be expected in about 98 days. Some are capable of doing this in as little as 78 days. Early tomato plants are more suited to areas with short growing seasons. Some common varieties are "Early Girl," a regular sized tomato; "Tiny Tim," a cherry tomato; and "Native Sun," a yellow-fruited specimen.
Mid-season tomatoes are those that are considered regular tomatoes, producing fruit in the middle of the growing season. Mid-season tomatoes take from 60 to 79 days to mature from seedlings, putting the entire growing process from seed to tomato anywhere between 91 and 108 days. Examples of mid-season varieties would be "Jelly Bean, a grape tomato"; "Better Boy" and "Big Girl" for standard-size tomatoes; and "Washington Cherry," a cherry tomato.
Late-season tomatoes can take 80 days or more to come to fruit, which means from the time seeds are planted, as much as 118 days can pass before tomatoes can be harvested. Late-season tomatoes tend to be the largest of the tomato varieties. Some late varieties are "Golden Boy," a yellow-fruited tomato; "Brandywine, a large heirloom variety"; and "Viva Italia," a red paste tomato.
Reasons for choosing early tomatoes may be as simple as being anxious for the first taste of fresh garden tomatoes or because your location has a short growing season. Mid-season tomatoes provide a wide variety of sizes, colors, flavors and uses. Often these are the tomatoes that are used for canning and freezing as well as for fresh eating. Late-season tomatoes include many heirloom varieties, from which seeds can be saved, and some of the largest tomatoes—among them "beefsteak."
- Photo Credit tomato plants image by JLycke from Fotolia.com
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