I think it is safe to say that no other garden plant has primed the competitive juices of the average gardener like the tomato. The quest to have the first ripe tomato in the neighborhood can turn even the most laid back, unassuming gardener into a pull out all the stops, tomato growing machine. Subsequently, seed companies are always on the hunt for earlier and earlier tomato varieties. Their catalogues bulge every year with new “early” varieties. But the problem with most of those new tomatoes is that their earliness comes at the price of good flavor. Really, what good is an early tomato if it tastes like one of those supermarket abominations you’re forced to eat over the winter months. There are, however, tried and true heirloom tomatoes that fit nicely into the “early” tomato timeframe of 50-60 days from transplant that also have wonderful flavor. The following are my 5 favorite:
This tomato, created by Oregon State University professor Dr. James Baggett, is the largest tomato on the list at about 10-12 oz. I prefer Siletz to the ever popular “Early Girl” tomato as it has so much more flavor. It’s also as high yielding as Early Girl without the thick skin that plagues that variety. The Siletzs I have planted have consistently produced ripe fruit at about the 60 days from transplant mark, making it the latest of the 5 on the list, but one of the earliest tomatoes for it’s size.
Despite the off-putting name, the 4oz golf ball to tennis ball size fruit produced by this plant packs a wonderful old-time tomato taste that rivals beefsteaks 4 times its size. This potato leaf variety is very prolific and in my experience, has a disease resistance as good as most hybrids. Bloody Butcher clocks in at 55 days from transplant.
LIME GREEN SALAD
You aren’t seeing things, this tomato hasn’t been picked to make fried green tomatoes. It is fully ripe. Lime green salad is one of the many green varieties of heirloom tomato making a name for itself in the tomato arena of late. I grow this and Aunt Ruby’s German Green to get my sweet and tangy tomato fix. Lime Green is a compact but productive little plant, making it ideal for container gardening. This tomato can also be an option as a decorative plant in your bedding areas as it puts on about twice as many flowers as it does fruit (a little aspect of Lime Green that freaked me out the first time I grew it. When I didn’t get tomatoes from the first few flowers I thought I had a dud tomato. But 100 blooms and 50 tomatoes later, I realized that it’s just one of the quirks of Lime Green Salad.) This tomato ripens around the 55 days from transplant mark
If I was allowed just one early tomato to grow, it would be Matina. This bright red, 3 oz. golf ball sized tomato has the kind of perfect sweet and acidic balance that you normally find in larger, late season tomatoes. Matina is also good for extremely high yields of fruit, so if you actually are in a situation where you can only have one early tomato, you can still get all the tomatoes you want with Matina. This tomato ripens at about 55 days after transplant.
Translated as “One who lives in Moscow” this is obviously a Russian tomato, and what a Russian tomato! Juicy, good sweet/acid balance this 6 oz. baseball sized fruit is just an all around good tomato. The yield is impressive for a plant that usually only tops out at about 4ft for me. Moskvich tends to give me its first ripe tomato at about 58 days from transplant.
So there you have it. My five early favs. Each differing in size, taste and habit but all of them worth a space in your garden. Do you have an early tomato that you swear by? I would love to hear your favorites. I know these are just a few of the many great early varieties out there, so feel free to share your go-to early tomatoes in the comment area below.
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