If you think your summers are too short, too cool or too cloudy to grow tomatoes, think again.
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The experts' top picks
Here are a dozen of the best early-season and cool-climate tomatoes:
'Anna Russian'. Brought to Oregon by a Russian immigrant generations ago. Pinkish-red, heart-shaped fruits are very early, large and juicy; vines are hardy. Indeterminate. 65-70 days.
'Buckbee's New 50 Day'. Good yields of great tasting 4-oz. red round fruit. Both cold and heat tolerant. Indeterminate. 55 days.
'Gold Nugget'. An early golden cherry tomato; produces sweet flavorful crack-resistant fruit. Determinate. 60 days.
'Legend'. Very large, glossy red fruit; very early and hardy; resistant to late blight fungus, the bane of cool and rainy climates. Determinate. 68 days.
'Oregon Spring'. Big red fruit with good flavor. One of the earliest of all, plants are resistant to both cool and hot temperatures. Seedless (parthenocarpic) compact determinate. 58 days.
'Northern Lights' – Tender, early 3-1/2-inch, round, yellow-orange beefsteak with red highlights, intense flavor. Hot-weather tolerant; bears till frost. Indeterminate. 56 days.
'San Francisco Fog'. Produces clusters of round, smooth, red fruit with good flavor. Well adapted to cool, wet areas where grey skiesmay cause tomatoes not to set their fruit. Indeterminate. 70 days.
'Siletz'. Deep red slicer; one of the earliest producers and king of cooler climates; produces well in hot climates as well. Determinate. 52 days.
Stupice'. Early and dependable, popular in the Northwest and in areas with hot summers. Firm, juicy, small to medium size fruit; three- to four-foot bush with unusual potato like foliage. Indeterminate. 60 days.
'Sunset's Red Horizon Huge'. Red, five-inch, meaty, heart-shaped fruits. One of the first varieties to produce, and frost-resistant as well. Indeterminate. 69 days.
'Tobolsk'. 100-year-old heirloom from the Ural mountains of Russia. Sweet three-inch, light yellow to orange fruit with excellent acid balance; Not as early but ripens in cool weather. Indeterminate. 80-85 days.
'Valencia Heirloom'. from Maine. Round, 10-ounce, orange fruits with rich flavor. Good choice for cooler growing areas. Indeterminate. 76 days.
Tips for speedy tomato growing in short-season areas
The most important step in making sure you don't spend your summer fruitlessly nurturing your tomato plants (pun intended) is to choose your varieties wisely. Before you head out to your local nurseries, spend some time perusing seed catalogs and scouting varieties that seem likely to do well in your area. But if you get a late start or your selection is limited, there are also plenty of things you can do to help your tomatoes get the best start possible:
The pleasure of biting into a ripe, homegrown tomato should never be denied to any determined gardener, so if you live —and garden — in an area with unusual climate or weather challenges, be sure to consult with your local nurseries, or check out the resources offered by nearby agricultural and master gardener programs. Specialized seed companies based in areas with similar climates to yours should be able to suggest varieties to try. Above all, don't be afraid to experiment.
"Set aside part of your garden to experiment with and try out different types," says Ibsen. "If there's a kind of tomato that intrigues you, don't let the 'rules' stop you; see if you can make it work. That's one of the adventures of growing tomatoes."
—Melanie Haiken is a freelance writer and gardener who lives with her two daughters in San Rafael, California. She contributes regularly to Health and Business 2.0 magazines.
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