With its long history of Amish and Mennonite farms that grow heirloom tomatoes, and more recent tests by Penn State’s Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension, Pennsylvania has plenty of data on the best tomato seeds for local conditions. Penn State recommends sowing tomato seeds indoors in pots six to eight weeks before the plants will be set outside. In central Pennsylvania, plant tomatoes outdoors from May 20 to June 1, after the danger of frost has passed.
If you want a tomato for salads or sandwiches, both Penn State’s Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension and the Mother Earth News agree Early Girl (60 days to maturity) and Better Boy (74 days) are the tops. Early Girl bears 7- to 9-oz. flavorful fruit on 20-inch tall bushes. Better Boy produces 10-oz. fruits over a longer season. For early and mid-season tomatoes, try Ultra Sweet (62 days) or Celebrity (70 days). Plants seeds of Mountain Fresh Plus (76), Fabulous (77), Sebring (77), Delicious (79), Biltmore (80) or Lightning (82) to harvest main season tomatoes.
Paste or Saladette
Roma (75 days) and Juliet (60) top most lists for paste or saladette tomato seeds to grow in the Keystone State, while Penn State also recommends the early season Early Cascade (62), along with the high-yielding Viva Italia (72) or the green Mariana (74). Mother Jones lists Amish Paste (74), San Marzano (85) and Opalka (85) as other top seeds to grow in the mid-Atlantic region. These less juicy tomatoes work well for sauces, salsa and canning.
Heirlooms, considered more flavorful by agricultural extension specialists, predate the post World War II switch to hybrid tomatoes that could tolerate long-distance shipping to markets. Brandywine heirloom seeds are recommended for Pennsylvania by Mother Jones, along with Black Krim, the century-old Cherokee Purple and Lemon Yellow. Some histories of the Brandywine heirloom note that it was introduced in 1885 by Amish farmers in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania seed companies specialize in Mennonite and Amish heirloom tomato seeds, including the Hahnstown Yellow, Amish Oxheart and Eva’s Amish Stripe.
Cherry, Patio, Grape
For cherry tomatoes, seed authorities consider the best choices to be Sun Sugar (62 days to maturity), Super Sweet 100 (65), Sungold, Sweet Million (65), Sweet Baby Girl (65), Jolly (75), Black Cherry and Riesenstraube. Penn State also recommends Orange Pixie (52 days) and Bush Early Girl (60 days) for patio tomato seeds, and Mini Charm, Tami G, Sugar Snack and Sugary (all 60 to 65 days) for grape tomatoes.