It’s definitely time to think really seriously about planting some tomato seeds! If one has not decided on any particular varieties to grow this season, I have some really good advice from the University of Illinois Extension department. This website contains pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about growing, preserving and eating tomatoes.
My own personal favorite and possibly the only variety I will plant this year is Swift, a cultivar highly adapted to Zone 1b gardens. I may have mentioned this tomato variety in previous posts, because I am so enamoured of it. Swift is an older variety developed at the Experimental Farm at Swift Current and released for gardeners in the early 1960s[i]. So I guess that qualifies it to be called a heritage variety. Swift is a determinate tomato that grows medium sized fruits on relatively small bushes, rarely over 24 inches tall. It is very early maturing (54 days) and even in our short season area reliably produces vine ripened fruits for most of the summer as well as loads of green tomatoes to pick just before the killing frost and ripen indoors. Like all tomatoes, Swift is not frost tolerant but it does have the unusual trait of bearing its fruit near the bottom of the plant, which means that light frosts which might kill the top leaves of the plant do not harm the fruit. The small stature of the plants make them easy to cover when frost threatens.
Unfortunately, for the last several years seed for Swift tomatoes has not been commercially available. I suspect that as other cultivars became more popular, and the Zone 1b market was small, commercial seed businesses opted to give their shelf space to more lucrative varieties. I always save seed from my Swifts every year my saved seed seems to produce better as the cultivar adapts to my garden’s particular climate and soil conditions. For many years I have shared seed with gardening friends and this year I contributed some seed to Seedy Saturday events. I hope future Zone 1b gardeners will have an opportunity to grow this amazing little plant. Swift seed is listed in the Member Seed Directory at Seeds of Diversity.