5 Short-Season Tomatoes

Gardeners burdened with less than 90 frost-free days, take note: These productive cultivars offer up the fruit and flavor you crave.

Photo by Nan Fischer

As the founder of the Taos Seed Exchange in New Mexico, I receive a lot of interesting seed donations for our annual seed swap. One year, tomato seeds came in from High Ground Gardens in Crestone, Colorado, a few hours’ drive north of my organic nursery in the Rocky Mountains.

Owner Bryon Pike breeds short-season and cold tolerant tomatoes outdoors at elevations between 7,000 and 8,500 feet. I was excited to receive his donation, because I too live and garden in a short-season part of the Rockies. From Pike’s seeds, I grew and sold a handful of ‘Super Tomato’ starts with the understanding that the buyers would return fresh seed for the seed exchange. One plant went to a woman who had just moved to the Rockies from Florida. That year, we had an unusually late frost on June 23 that killed all of her tomatoes except the ‘Super Tomato.’ It was untouched — not even tip burn. Super, indeed!

After that, I began to look more deeply into short-season, cold tolerant tomatoes, and have discovered other cultivars that are nothing like the original tomato from South America

Tomato Genesis

The origins of the beloved tomato are a little fuzzy, like the stems and leaves of the plant itself. A wild relative, Solanum pimpinellifolium L., can be found in the Andes Mountains of South America in Peru, Ecuador, and Chile. The fruit is about the size of a blueberry. This species is believed to have moved north into Central America, where it became semi-domesticated — a mix of wild and cultivated genetics. Its fruit is larger, the size of a modern cherry tomato. The species continued to migrate north, into southern Mexico, where it became fully domesticated and the size of our modern slicing tomato. Today, its botanical name is S. lycopersicum L. var. lycopersicum.

Hundreds of years of selective breeding later, many of us grow tomatoes in our home gardens. Gardeners can choose from a huge variety of tomatoes, each bred for qualities we desire, such as flavor, color, shape, and (the subject of this article) earliness and hardiness.

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