Growing tomatoes in cool climate is a challenging and fun thing to do. We grow mainly heirloom tomatoes. Every year we try some new varieties and choose from those that have proven to be great for our garden. And there are so many to choose from.
Not all tomatoes are the same. Some ripen faster and tolerate cool weather better than others. Generally, determinate or dwarf tomatoes are earlier and better suited for outdoor growing in cold climate. Caseys heirloom tomatoes catalog has a guide to the best (non-cherry) tomatoes to grow outdoors in Calgary (zone 3a) and also a guide to the best tomatoes to grow in pots. You might find your favourite variety on that list.
Varieties matter, and they matter a lot. It actually might be the most important small thing that determines if you will have success or failure.
Look for and get varieties that are suited for your climate. For us in a cool climate we get early varieties that will set fruit even in cool weather conditions. For our greenhouse we can get some classics, but even in there we do not grow any variety that needs a long growing season. It simply would not work.
Heirloom Tomato Varieties We Grow In a Northern Garden
This is an incomplete list of tomatoes we have grown over the years. Some of these are our favourites that we continue to grow every year, while others, even though good too, we have dropped because we can’t possible grow all of them. Some have never even made the list because we are very picky on varieties we grow.
For a tomato variety to become our favourite it has to perform great. Our growing conditions in cold climate are very challenging, to deal with even more challenges because of the variety is not what we want. Still, some of those that have not made the list of our favourites might become a favourite for you. There are so many great tomatoes to choose from and try.
Bush or Vine Type Tomatoes
Tomato varieties are roughly divided into bush and vine type plants. All determinate, semi determinate, and dwarf plants make a bush, and all indeterminate tomatoes are vine. Normally your seed package will tell you what you got. If in doubt, just google your variety and you can usually find lots of information on what type of tomato it is.
Both bush and vine type tomatoes can have fruit in all sizes. But bush type tomatoes are mostly earlier and easier to grow in a cold climate.
Heirloom Bush Type Tomato Varieties We Grow In a Northern Garden:
Latah was a gift seed package from Heritage Harvest Seeds. It was developed at Latah County at the University of Idaho. It often is the earliest tomato in our garden. The fruit is bright red and averages about 2 inches across. The flavour is good (very sweet) and better than many of the super early varieties. Latah will grow to be a vine bush. Some call it determinate and others indeterminate, with regular leaf foliage. Matures 50 days from transplant. Because of its earliness we keep growing it.
A Hungarian dwarf tomato that will grow only about 40 cm tall. However, if planted in good soil, we have found that it will grow a bit taller and will be loaded with fruit.
Very flavorful and early tomato – very sweet with a nice tomato finish. The globe shaped fruits usually weigh 50-60g. Grows well in containers and even better in the ground. Can be outside the greenhouse. A favourite!
Native Sun is the earliest yellow determinate tomato. Yum-yum, lots of delicious tomatoes. It’s supposed to be a poor keeper. I could not tell since we eat it so fast, often directly from the vine. Native Sun also looks and tastes great in a salad with dark greens like kale. Even though we like it so much, I often only grow one plant because it is so productive that we do not need more. Native Sun also grows well outside the greenhouse. A favourite!
Early Annie was a first for us this year and it immediately became a favourite. A short determinate heirloom variety that produce high yields of 4 oz., round, meaty fruits with few seeds. Particularly good for canning. Fruit sets all at once. Early Annie is an exceptional tomato combining earliness, productiveness, and beautiful, medium sized, blemish free orange red fruit. Determinate, regular leaf foliage. Matures within 65-70 days. A favourite!
This bush type variety was developed for the prairies of Canada. It is a hearty, northern tomato that thrives in cool season. It produces well and early in the season and has a tangy taste that is great for canning and preserving. Matures 6o days from transplant. Manitoba was close to becoming a favourite, but then we tasted Early Annie, a very similar tomato that suits us even better.
Tiny Tim Heirloom miniature cherry tomato variety was introduced by the University of New Hampshire in 1945. This small, tidy, determinate plant with deep green leaves typically grows to 20 – 40 cm (8-16″) tall and 17 cm (6 1/2″) in diameter if planted in full sun. Tiny Tim will thrive in less sunlight than other varieties, however fruit yields will be less and growth larger and less tidy.
Determinate (bush type). Matures in 60 days.
Heirloom Vine Type Tomato Varieties We Grow In a Northern Garden
Cuor di Bue or Bull’s Heart
Bull’s Heart is a tomato I grew up with; I was thrilled to find it here. It also is a favourite among Calgary’s elderly Italian immigrant community. Many grow only one tomato and this is it – Bull’s Heart. It will produce up to 900 g (2 lbs.) of pink fruit. A great sandwich tomato, and equally as great for making salsa. It is meaty and tasty. And did I mention its huge fruits? 😉
Cuor di Bue or Bull’s Heart surprised us with a 2 lb 4 oz tomato! That is lots of tomato in one fruit, and it was all good and yummy! A favourite!
Summer 2018 – we have a new winner: 3lb 8.10oz Bull’s Heart tomato.
Anna Russian – I ordered the seeds just because I could not resist the name ;). A wonderful heirloom from Brenda Hillenius of Oregon, whose grandfather had obtained seeds from a Russian immigrant. The heart shaped fruit are pinkish red. The flesh is sweet and juicy. Very high yields and also very early. Indeterminate, regular leaf foliage. Matures 65 days from transplant.
We grow Anna Russian indoors to have very early tomatoes. A favourite!
Red Brandywine is an extremely reliable producer of large – 8-12 oz (225-340 g) – perfect red globe fruit. The taste is deep and rich. It is a beautiful, sturdy indeterminate plant. A favourite!
Old German tomato went from new to try to favorite in one swing. It’s a very beautiful, multicolored tomato. The taste is outstanding, sweet and juicy, you just have to try it. Plants are sturdy and very tall. Matures in 80 days. A favourite!
Matina (aka Tamina)
This tomato is a German OP commercial variety that has been around for 40 years. Huge plant, full of tasty little tomatoes. Definitely an early variety! I think in mid July the first ones were ripe in a greenhouse. Certainly worth it to grow. If you are into fermenting tomatoes, this one works very well because of the more firm skin.
JD of Conroe, Texas, stabilized a cross between Brandywine and an unknown black tomato. A red/black early and tasty tomato. I have been successfully growing this one outside the greenhouse, in a south facing sheltered location.
John de Rocque from Kimberley BC crossed Tiny Tim with Siberia and stabilized it to this short, potato leaf plant with smooth tasting red tomatoes. This tomato will produce early and keep going all season long.
Ludmilla’s Red Plum
Ludmilla’s Red Plum comes from a Kazakh family who immigrated to Germany. The family had been growing out this variety for over 50 years. It will produce an incredible amount (7 per truss) of smooth tasting fruit that weigh up to 9 oz. (255g). This tomato is not a paste variety. We have grown it for years, but it still has not become a real favourite.
Maya & Sion’s Airdrie Classic
A cross of a late large pink beefsteak – Brandywine, and an early red- Stupice, this tomato has the best combination of earliness and flavour. It is named after Caseys heirloom tomatoes’ son and daughter. 170g-400g, red oblate fruits with ribbing are produced on trusses of 4 to 8.