Every spring, gardeners rush to plant America’s favorite backyard crop: tomatoes. Even if you don’t have a backyard, chances are you’ve tried them in a container. But if you live where the growing season is short or chilly, you may not have had much luck raising beefstakes, heirlooms, grape and cherry types or other tomatoes.
Tomatoes need sun, and a lot of it, along with warm temperatures to help them develop their sweet flavors. Heat also allows the plants to produce pollen for pollination.
On the other hand, gardeners who live in regions where the summers are extremely hot often find that their tomatoes stop producing at a certain point.
So what’s a tomato-hungry gardener to do?
The solution is to choose short season or early-fruiting varieties.
These plants usually bear their fruit in 55 to 70 days, so they’re ripe before a killing frost hits where the summers are short.
If started early, they will also be ready to harvest before the temperatures soar in areas with very hot summers. When the temperatures climb above 85 degrees F during the day, and remain above 75 degrees at night, tomatoes are often too stressed to set fruit.
Some of these faster-maturing, hardy tomatoes hail from Eastern European countries like Russia. Many are heirlooms, plants that gradually adapted over time to tolerate cold weather and bear before an early snow or frost.
Others are newer varieties that have been bred to produce early. We’ve listed some of our favorite early season tomatoes below. Check them out and try one in your garden.
- ‘Early Girl’ – The fruits on this popular hybrid mature in 50 days from planting, weighing in at 6 to 8 ounces each. The plants are indeterminate, which means they’ll continue bearing all summer, although the heaviest crop comes early in the season. If you live where the growing season is long, plant again in late summer. ‘Early Girl’ resists fungal diseases that attack tomatoes: verticillium wilt and fusarium wilt races 1 and 2. (“Race” refers to different strains of these diseases.)
- ‘Moskvich’ – Ready to pick in about 60 days, this heirloom tomato comes from Russia. The round, slightly flattened fruits resist cracking and are good for eating fresh or processing. The plants are semi-determinate (determinate means the plants grow as bushes and usually don’t need staking or caging, so this variety may need some support).
- ‘Orange Roma’ – Make orange sauces or salsas with this pinkish-orange heirloom. The large fruits are practically seedless and ripen in about 68 days.
- ‘Siletz’ – For an early slicing tomato, try this determinate variety, developed at Oregon State University. The fruits resist cracking, verticillium wilt, and fusarium wilt 1, and are nearly seedless.
- ‘Early Annie’ – Get ready to pick these heirloom tomatoes roughly 60 days after planting. The meaty, orange-red fruits have very few seeds and mature all at once, making this a good choice for canning or processing. The vines are determinate.
- ‘Beaverlodge Slicer’ – These compact plants, bred at the Beaverlodge Research Center in Alberta, Canada, bear about 52 days from sowing. The red, 2-inch fruits are produced on bushy, determinate vines, so you can grow them in hanging containers or pots.
- ‘Juliet’ – This All-America Selections winner yields lots of sweet, meaty tomatoes in about 60 days. The grape-shaped fruits are produced in clusters and resist cracking. You’ll need to stake the indeterminate vines, which set fruit all summer. ‘Juliet’ is heat tolerant.
- ‘Bloody Butcher’ – While the name sounds unappetizing, this heirloom tomato is ready in 55 days. The indeterminate vines bear 5 to 9 juicy, deep red fruits per cluster and require staking.
- ‘Bush Beefstake’ – These meaty, red tomatoes weigh about 8 ounces each and mature in 62 days. Grow the vigorous, bushy plants in containers or small garden spaces.
- ‘Fireworks’ – Bright red ‘Fireworks’ tomatoes ripen in about 60 days on prolific, indeterminate plants. The round fruits can grow to 8 ounces or more. This variety is both heat resistant and cold tolerant.
- ‘Lime Green Salad’ – These tangy, citrusy-tasting fruits are small, weighing in at 3 to 5 ounces each, with lime green skins that become amber as they continue to ripen. The plants are small enough for borders or containers. This early, determinate variety is ready in 58 days.
- ‘Early Doll’ - Ready in about 52 days, ‘Early Doll’ is recommended for Northern gardens. The round, bright red fruits have a great flavor and aroma. Slice them for salads and sandwiches, or make them into salsa.
- ‘Northern Lights’ – Plan to harvest these attractive, red and gold bicolored tomatoes in 60 days. The fruits are produced on indeterminate vines and weigh up to 10 ounces; try them for their tangy but sweet taste.
- ‘Sun Gold’ – These bright orange cherry tomatoes are ready in about 55 to 60 days. They’re held in clusters on vigorous, indeterminate vines. Their flavor is fruity and sweet, so you may be tempted to pop them into your mouth as you pick.
- ‘Baxter’s Early Bush Cherry’ – This variety takes up to 70 days to mature, but if you’ve got time to grow it, you’ll enjoy the tasty, cherry-type fruits. The compact, determinate vines bear heavily but don’t usually need caging or staking.