Editor's note: Choosing the right variety of tomatoes for your area makes a big difference in their success.

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by Mort Mather

Bob Vitali emailed: "I live in Eastern Massachusetts and I was wondering what are the best tomatoes that are the heartiest, and the fastest growing tomatoes for my area."

Dear Bob,

It is already time to transplant which means that you are probably going to be stuck with the selection from local nurseries. "Stuck" isn't the right word. The local nurseries will give you a good selection for your area. For fast growing and earliest producing I would recommend a cherry tomato. One plant is enough. Having said that I have to admit I didn't plant any cherries this year. An oversight since I do like them and they are the earliest.

A good nursery should be able to help you decide. They won't have a wide selection but what they have is probably what they have found does best for them and among their customers. One of the varieties they may have is Celebrity. It is an All-America winner, produces good seedlings which is why greenhouses like it but it also has flavorful, firm fruit and is widely disease resistant.

It is a determinant variety which means that the plant will grow to a certain size and stop. Indeterminate varieties grow like vines. If you stake them, the stake may have to be six feet high or they may ramble all over the place.

You can get much more variety if you are starting your own seedlings. The catalogue in front of me has thirty-nine varieties listed. The four varieties I'm planting were selected from that array.

The earliest tomato I am planting this year is Glacier which is supposed to produce in 56 days. It is a small tomato and as early as sub-arctics which I have planted before. Sold by Fedco Seeds (perhaps the only source) Fedco says "Glacier's rich tomato flavor relegates the insipid sub-arctics to the compost pile. It is also far superior to the highly touted Siberian tomato…"

Brandywine, a 112 year old Amish heirloom, "with a hint of tartness and a dollop of good old-fashioned tomato flavor is at the leading edge of the heirloom revival. It had dropped out of seed catalogues for a number of years but, fortunately, was kept alive by individuals who saved their own seed from year to year. Why would a variety that many now argue is the best tasting tomato, period, be dropped from catalogues. One of its features is that the fruit ripens unevenly throughout the season with "at least a few quite early for such a large tomato." This is a great feature for a gardener but not for a farmer. I believe that varieties like this were dropped because breeders were breeding tomatoes for the convenience of farmers, machines, boxes and marketers rather than for gardeners and people who care about the taste and nutritious value of the food they eat. I hate it when I'm cynical.

Sochulak, an Italian paste tomato, is another new tomato to our garden this year. The catalogue description sold me.

"Very heavy early yields of oblate pink fruit with a meaty texture suitable for eating or cooking. Eaten out of hand has the best flavor of any paste tomato. This heirloom, pronounced suh-coo-luk, came from Italy to Maine three generations ago where it was maintained by a family in Washington County. Seventeen years ago Roberta Bunker received a sample. Over the years she has selected it for earliness and disease resistance. Although it is still not blemish free, it is a fine choice for home gardeners. Oxheart type grows medium to very large size and quickly fills up the sauce pot." (Fedco Seeds, PO Box 520, Waterville, ME 04930-0520)

After 26 years of gardening I have not settled on a tomato that is in the "must plant" category.

İMay 31, 1997

Mort is a husband and father. He authored a book, Gardening For Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine in 1987. You can eat his organic produce at his son's southern Maine restaurant. He is a consultant for organizations. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.

Mort retains all rights to his columns. Anyone interested in using them can get the rights at a very reasonable rate.



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