When it comes to the perfect tomato, we gardeners have sky-high expectations! We all have our own concept of tomato heaven—healthy plants bearing tons of huge fruit with exactly the right sugar-to-acid balance, thin skin (but one that doesn’t crack), early, full of flavor, and resistant to whatever Mother Nature can throw at it.
Here in my high altitude garden, I can’t afford to be so picky. Forget long-season heirlooms and humongous beefsteaks. I just want a tomato that will ripen before it freezes to death! It does, however, have to taste better than store-bought. Isn’t flavor the whole reason to grow tomatoes in the first place?
Still, some varieties have fared better than others, both in my garden and my kitchen. Here are some that I plan to grow again.
Because they’re so small, cherry tomatoes tend to be earlier, which is a good thing when killing frosts are a possibility in both June and September. At around 60 days to maturity, my hands-down favorite is Sungold. It’s I liked these even when I didn’t really like tomatoes (I’ve since come to my senses).
The disease resistant plants stayed healthy all season long. The only problem was a tendency to split; even watering and a deep mulch are helpful. Even with some lost fruit, one plant is plenty, unless you plan to eat nothing else all summer (not a bad idea!).
If you live in a short season area and don’t plant to start your own transplants, odds are you’ll find Early Girl seedlings at your garden center. Early Girl has been the standard for early tomatoes for decades. The reason? Most catalogs list it at 57 days to maturity. (Do to my chilly nights, I find it takes almost twice that long in my Colorado garden.)
Early Girl may not be the most delicious tomato ever, but it’s a giant stride removed from anything you can get at most markets. The flavor is perfectly fine, and when eaten warm from the vine, with the juice dripping off your chin, I promise that you won’t be sorry you grew this variety.
The other tomato I make a point to grow every year is Early Goliath (photo at top of page). It matures at the same time as Early Girl, but out-performs its predecessor in almost every way. The plants are fuller and stockier, good for preventing sunscald at high altitudes. They’re resistant to every disease you can imagine. The fruit are bigger, too—almost big enough to placate my beefsteak-loving husband. And they’re absolutely scrumptious.
Unfortunately, the only place I ever found it for sale was Totally Tomatoes. (I’ve had great service from them, but usually this is the only variety I want to buy from them, and I hate to pay more in shipping than for the seed packet!) This year, I discovered that Reimer Seeds also carries Early Goliath. I’ve never ordered from them; if you do, please let me know about your experience.
I’ve tried a number of other varieties over the years, each touted as the next best early tomato. Some have been better than others, but none really measured up. Either the plants failed to thrive, or the fruit was insipid.
Apparently a lot of seed companies share my experience. I’ve noticed that the early tomatoes they were excited about previously have been replaced by a different variety come the next year. As one catalog described their latest offering: “For decades we have been looking for an extremely early tomato that sets fruit in cool weather and also tastes good. Polbig may be the one.”
My solution is to plant several varieties I like, and then trial one or two new varieties each year. I’ll let you know if I hit the jackpot. Meanwhile, which tomatoes do you recommend?