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The top tomato?

WESTERNERS give a high five to tomatoes as the all-time favorite vegetable. And there's no squabbling about the favorite variety: From Salem, Oregon, to Flagstaff, Arizona, everyone loves 'Early Girl'. Out of 45 varieties mentioned by Sunset readers, 'Early Girl' earned 28 times more votes than most of the other varieties, and 2 1/2 times the votes of its nearest rival, 'Sweet 100'.

What's so great about this tomato? Respondents described its flavor with glowing words. "It's loaded with fresh, sweet flavor," writes Kathy Sansone of Salem, Oregon. "I love its rich tomato taste," writes Barbara Todd of North Shore, California. Lise Wilkinson of Irvine, California, finds 'Early Girl' so tasty that she eats it like an apple.

A tomato that produces early

A big part of the attraction of 'Early Girl' is its earliness (Elaine Schlegel of Carmel Valley, California, pictured at right, enjoys fresh, ripe tomatoes long before her friends who plant other varieties). Time from setting out transplants to first crop is about 52 days--give or take a few days--compared to as long as 80 days for beefsteak types. 'Early Girl' also is an indeterminate variety, so it keeps producing all season long.

Its earliness is a real advantage in cold climates. "We've been unsuccessful with other varieties that are supposed to be suitable for high altitudes," write Barbara and John Fisher, who garden at 7,000 feet in Flagstaff, Arizona; they find that 'Early Girl' is one of the few tomatoes that matures for them.

Tips for a successful crop

Most nurseries sell seedlings of 'Early Girl', or you can start it from seed.

At the nursery, buy young, stocky seedlings. Plant them after last frost in a spot that gets full sun. In mountain climates, you may have to protect plants from sudden late frosts with a plastic tepee or other device.

Space seedlings 3 to 4 feet apart in soil amended with plenty of organic matter, such as compost or peat moss. Before planting, mix in a low-nitrogen fertilizer or a fertilizer formulated especially for tomatoes. In cooler climates, use a mulch of black plastic to warm the soil.

Deep planting is best for tomatoes. Set them in up to the top two sets of leaves (remove lower leaves first); roots will sprout along the stem. Water regularly for the first few weeks until roots are established, then cut back on frequency and water more deeply.

As plants grow, they'll need support. The easiest way is to build a wire cage. Cut an 80-inch length of 6-inch-mesh concrete-reinforcing wire (available in 5- and 7-foot widths), and bend it into a cylinder.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Best of the West; Early Girl tomato variety
Author:Swezey, Lauren Bonar
Publication:Sunset
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Words:438
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