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Win the earliest tomato contest

Updated on December 21, 2013
Patsybell profile image

I inherited my love of gardening from my mother and grandmother. I am a garden blogger, freelance writer, and Master Gardener emeritus.

Tomatoes that thrive in cool weather

Ask experienced gardeners what  tomato varieties are best in your region.
Ask experienced gardeners what tomato varieties are best in your region. | Source

Roma or paste tomatoes

Roma or paste tomatoes start early and continue to produce all season, until first frost.
Roma or paste tomatoes start early and continue to produce all season, until first frost. | Source

Tomato seed or tomato plants

Which is best? How many plants do I need?

  1. If you have room for just one tomato plant. Grow a “slicer,” the beefsteak type, to to eat fresh, in salads, or on sandwiches. One plant can also provide a few fresh tomato dishes, like insalada Caprese, pasta primavera, bruschetta.

  2. If you have room for just two tomatoes, grow a slicer and a cherry tomato. Cherry tomatoes are the earliest to ripen and will continue to produce until first frost. You will have fresh tomatoes for the longest time with a cherry tomato plant.

  3. If you have room for just three tomato plants, add a paste tomato or Roma type. Of course, these long, sausage shaped romas are, but most often grown with cooking or preserving in mind. Also called paste tomatoes, they are ideal for tomato sauces, canning, tomato paste or drying.

If you are growing tomato plants in a container, plants labeled specifically as “patio tomatoes, or determinates are a good choice. Determinate plants grow to a certain height, produce heavily and then stop growing.

Indeterminate plants continue to grow and produce fruit until the first frost. Because they keep growing taller and taller, be prepared to stake or cage these plants. Most plants are indeterminate, providing fruit over the longest stretch of time.

Cherry tomatoes are ripe first

These Sun Gold cherry tomatoes are the first ripe tomato in my garden.
These Sun Gold cherry tomatoes are the first ripe tomato in my garden. | Source

Extra early tomatoes

There are many more choices, these are a few that have been successful in my zone 6 Missouri garden. A few of the best known early tomatoes available as plants or seed:

Oregon Spring - red, 6-ounce, determinate, 75-80 days, hybrid. - Plant this one earlier than local tomato plants are available. Bushy plants, no staking required, 4-inch ovals, juicy with few seeds. Set outside a couple of weeks earlier than most tomato plants. Continues producing even in hot conditions. Bred and introduced by Dr. James R. Baggett of Oregon State University in 1984. A Nichols Garden Nursery introduction. True stock seeds are a bargain here.

Early Girl - red, 4 to 5-ounce, indeterminate, 60-62 days, hybrid. - a gardener’s best friend. Round globes need stakes or cages. Early Girl is a heavy, early producer but vines keep growing and producing all season. For fall tomatoes, plant it again late in the summer so that it will produce a huge fresh crop of "fall tomatoes"

Stupice - red, 3-4 ounces, dwarf indeterminate, 62-65 days, heirloom, Pronounced "stu-petes." Two-inch fruits bred in from the former Czechoslovakia by Milan Sodomka. Staking optional. Excellent very early tomato produces all season long..

Sub-Arctic Plenty - red, 2 to 4-ounce, red, determinate, 49-52 days . Sub-Arctic Plenty is from Dr. Harris, Beaverlodge Research Station, Alberta, Canada. Bushy plant needs no staking Replace with another tomato variety in hot weather. Consider this for a second, late tomato crop.

Include a hardy, early producer and it will become a mainstay in your garden. You gotta have at least one of these plants, if for no other reason, but to win the neighborhood First Tomato contest.

Seeds or plants?

Which is best? Starting plants fom seed or buying starter plants?

See results

Choosing plants or seeds

Seed starting usually begins 6 to 8 weeks before the anticipated last frost date in Spring. Your choice of varieties is much greater when you start with seeds. Another consideration is the expense and space required for seed starting.

Choosing plants is faster and easier. The local selection and availability are limited. You can buy tomato plants online and they will be delivered to your door. This is usually the most expensive choice. It may be the most practical choice for novice gardeners.

How to grow the first ripe tomato. Choose tomato plants that are known to produce early and in cool conditions. Early tomatoes are early because the plants and fruits are small. The big tomatoes, that take longer to ripen, need more time to produce bigger plants and the to grow.

If space is limited, consider growing an early producer and skip the cherry tomato. These early varieties will keep on producing throughout the season. When the main crop tomatoes come on, through these whole tomatoes in the freezer until you have enough for sauce of canning.

Seed Sources

There are many more plant and seed companies on line. You can also find both tomato plants and tomatoseeds locally. These are some of the companies I have used with great success.


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