Nothing incites a bit of friendly competition among gardeners like the race to harvest the first ripe tomato of the season. And why not? After going tomato-less all winter (those bland grocery store tomatoes barely count) a "real" tomato is definitely something worth looking forward to.
Luckily, there are several good, early-season tomato varieties available. These generally produce a crop sometime between 40 and 70 days after transplanting them into the garden.
While you could just choose any variety, sow the seeds early, and plant it out as soon as possible (with plenty of protection from frost), you have a better chance of getting a decent crop by growing a variety of tomato that was bred for cooler weather. Many of the tomatoes listed below, as you'll see, were developed in colder climates: Canada, Russia, the former Czechoslovakia. These can withstand cooler temperatures in spring, without affecting how long it takes to harvest.
Tips for Early Season Tomato Growing
There are several other things you can do to help ensure an early harvest:
- The warmer the soil, the better. Consider laying black or red plastic (which you can purchase through many garden catalogs) over the planting area. This will warm the soil, and the red plastic, specifically, reflects UV light up onto the undersides of the tomato leaves, which helps with photosynthesis.
- Grow your tomatoes in a raised bed garden. The soil in raised beds dries out earlier in spring, and warms up more quickly than traditional garden beds as well.
- If possible, take advantage of a southern exposure for additional warmth.
- Have frost protection measures in place. Even though early season varieties generally withstand cool temperatures well, a frost will still damage them. Consider installing framing for a low tunnel, or have sheets or floating row covers on hand if frost threatens. Wall O' Waters are a great option as well.
- Also be sure to take a look at these tips for growing organic tomatoes.
Ten Early Season Tomato Varieties
With these tips in mind, here are ten reliable early season tomato varieties:
1. 'Bush Beefsteak'
'Bush Beefsteak' produces a harvest in 62 days after transplanting. It produces plenty of deep red 8 to 12 ounce, sweet tomatoes. The compact, bushy plants are a good choice for containers, as well as for Square Foot Gardening. Determinate.
2. 'Cold Set'
In about 65 days, 'Cold Set' produces a first harvest of 4-inch red, round tomatoes. Catalogs claim that you can sow the seeds directly into your garden, and that the seedlings can withstand temperatures as low as 18 degrees Fahrenheit, but indoor sowing is generally a better bet. Bred in Canada. Determinate.
3. 'Gardener's Delight'
This is a very productive variety, producing a first crop around 65 days after planting. The red, cherry tomatoes are so sweet that 'Gardener's Delight' is also commonly called 'Sugar Lump.' The plant bears clusters of six to twelve tomatoes all season long. Indeterminate.
This Canadian variety is a vigorous grower that produces a crop around 66 days after planting. It produces heavy yields of three to four inch round, red fruits that have a tangy, very "tomato-ey" flavor. Determinate.
'Matina' produces a crop in about 70 days. The potato-leafed plants bear clusters of three-inch red, round tomatoes throughout the growing season. The tomatoes have a good, beefsteak tomato flavor. Indeterminate.
6. 'Silvery Fir Tree'
'Silvery Fir Tree' is a pretty plant with unique, silvery-gray, carrot-like foliage. The compact plants are a great option for those who want to grow tomatoes in containers. It produces a crop of smallish orange fruits 58 days after planting. The fruits have a lot of gel for their size, and the tang of the gel is balanced by the mild flavor of the flesh. 'Silvery Fir Tree' was introduced by Seed Savers International in 1995. Determinate.
7. 'Sophie's Choice'
This Canadian variety produces a heavy crop of six to eight ounce fruits about 55 days after planting. The fruit of 'Sophie's Choice' has orangish-red skin and a deep red interior, and good tangy flavor. The compact plants grow to about 24 inches tall, making this a good option for container growing or square foot gardening. Determinate.
While the flavor of 'Stupice' isn't really anything to write home about, the fact that it is a reliable early season variety makes this a mainstay in many gardens. It produces 2 inch, red, round fruits about 55 days after planting. The compact, potato-leafed plants are good in containers. Indeterminate.
Dubbed "the world's earliest tomato," 'Subarctic' produces a harvest of 4-ounce red, round fruits about 42 days after planting. The tangy little tomatoes are good in salads or sliced onto sandwiches. It was bred in Canada, and is a good, disease-resistant variety. Determinate.
'Tigerella' is definitely the prettiest tomato on this list. The fruits are slightly larger than a standard cherry tomato, and they are deep red, striped with bright orange. The flavor is also quite good; tangy and fresh. 'Tigerella' produces a crop about 55 days after planting, and keeps going all season long. Indeterminate.
Early season tomatoes are a fun challenge, and well worth it when you harvest that first, perfect, fresh tomato of the season.