Here in the UK, especially in more northern reaches of these isles, the short growing season is one of the biggest challenges. Growing warm climate, longer season crops like tomatoes can sometimes feel like a race against time. Growing tomato varieties specifically bred for a short growing season can be one way to beat the odds. They can help you get in a good tomato harvest before the cold weather arrives once more.
Even if you live in a milder and longer-season area in the south of the UK, you may struggle to get a worthwhile tomato crop before blight strikes on later summer. Fast-growing, short season tomato varies can be a solution for this problem too.
In this article, we will take a look at top tomato varieties for a short growing season, or to get in an early crop before blight strikes. But before we get to that, it is worthwhile taking a moment to think about the other steps that we can take to improve tomato yield and ensure success in short season areas.
Tomato Growing Tips for Short Season Gardeners
If you have a polytunnel, you are already ahead of the curve. A polytunnel will already give you an advantage over those short-season gardeners who struggle to grow their tomatoes entirely outdoors. Polytunnels are a great way to extend your growing season – not just for tomatoes but also for a range of other crops. Get it right, and you can grow food in your polytunnel all year round.
But what else can you do to make sure you get a good crop of tomatoes this year and in future years? Here are a few other things to consider:
Start your tomatoes indoors. Plant the seeds early in the year indoors to give them a head start before you plant them out in their final growing positions once the soil in the polytunnel has warmed sufficiently in spring. Tomatoes will germinate at temperatures of 4 degrees and above. But the best germination rates will be achieved at temperatures between 16 and 30 degrees C.
Consider using LED grow lights so early sown tomatoes do not get too leggy before spring.
Feed tomatoes with a potassium-rich feed. This will help to encourage flowering and fruit production. Feeding a nitrogen rich feed can encourage leafy growth at the expense of fruit production. So plants may tend to put on leafy growth, and a delay fruit production may occur. (A comfrey liquid feed could be a good choice.)
Check out our article on how to get tomatoes to ripen more quickly, to make sure you get as many ripe tomatoes as possible before time runs out.
Choose heritage tomato varieties and save your own seeds. That way you can breed tomatoes that are better and better suited to conditions in your particular area over time.
Of course, the most vital thing of all it to choose varieties that are already well suited to your area and to a short growing season. So let’s take a look at some of the options you could consider growing in your polytunnel.
Short Season Tomato Varieties to Consider
Which short season tomatoes will be best for you will, of course, depend on exactly where you live and the conditions to be found there. But here are a few fast growing short season tomato varieties that you might like to consider:
Latah is a bush type early tomato that was developed in Idaho. In Idaho, as in the UK, the short season can pose a challenge for those who want to grow these fruits. One of the earliest tomato plants to crop, Latah can provide fruits to harvest as early as late June in some areas. So it can be a good choice for those who are concerned about late summer blight, as well as for short growing seasons. The tomatoes this variety produces are great in salads or cooked in a range of recipes.
This is another bush type tomato. This one comes from Siberia, and it can cope brilliantly with a range of cool/ cold weather climates. This variety too can fruit very early – often as soon as late June or early July. The plants grow to only around 3ft tall, but stakes or strings are required to support the heavy fruit. The fruits are around 2 inches across, and perfectly round and red. They have a good balanced flavour with a mix of sweetness and acidity.
Grushovka (Early Pink)
This variety produces fruits that are a reddish pink, and shaped like giant plum tomatoes. The plants are excellent producers, forming plenty of fruit quickly on bushes around 3-4 ft tall. The fruits are not only early but also delicious – with a good flavour balance. They can be pretty is salads but are also good cooked (for example, in a bright gazpacho soup) or bottled for sauce.
Aurora is a great choice for short season gardeners who want to make sauce with their tomatoes. This is another Siberian variety that works well for colder climates. It germinates well, even at cold temperatures, and fruits extremely early. This is a bush type, which forms into medium to large bushes that do not sprawl too much. However, they will do best when provided with some support. The fruits have excellent taste, and their thick flesh is ideal for cooking down into a delicious tomato sauce.
Not quite as small as a cherry tomato, yet smaller than many other early tomato types, this variety is another interesting option to consider. This is another Russian variety and another fast grower. The fruits resist splitting, even where watering or rainfall is inconsistent. The fruits may be small, but another good thing about this variety is that they are rich and flavoursome in taste. These fruits can often be harvested within 60 days, and then abundantly for the rest of the season. They are good for cooking and preserving.
Stupice is one of a number of ‘indeterminate’ tomato types that are a mainstay of short season gardens. This variety is rather undistinguished, perhaps, when it comes to taste. But it fruits very reliably, producing red fruits, 1-2 inches in diameter, around 55 days after planting. One of the goof things about Stupice is that it can produce well even in the dullest and wettest of summers, and also keeps producing for a relatively long time.
This is an early ‘potato leaved’ tomato variety that is prized for its heavy cropping, fast growth and outstanding taste. It is originally a German variety and is now popular here in the UK and also in the US (where it is known as Matina). Very little side shooting is required with this variety, and it produces a reliable crop of medium sized, round, red fruits.
Alicante is popular amongst tomato varieties that mature early enough for UK growing. This variety is known for producing an abundant crop of uniform, red, medium sized fruits relatively early in the season. It can do well both in grow bags/ containers and in the soil. A cordoned vine type tomato, this can fruit from July right though to the autumn.
Black Prince is another of those handy heirloom tomato varieties from Russia. It originally comes from Irkutsk, Siberia. These can also fruit reliably and relatively early. The variety produces medium sized fruits. What sets them apart is their colour and flavour. They are deep blackish-brown in colour, shading to red, and have a smooth, sweet flavour and good balance.
The fruits of Bloody butcher are usually ready to harvest in as few as 55 days. So this is another good tomato variety to consider for short season gardeners. The fruits formed on these plants are around 2 inches in diameter and grow in clusters of 2-10 fruits. These tomatoes are good for preserving, and storing for use later in the year.
Of course, there are many other early and short season tomato varieties to choose from. But these suggestions should help you begin to narrow down your choices and find the tomato varieties that are right for you.
Do you have any favourite tomato varieties that you would like to share? Please share your knowledge and experiences in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.