Some popular vegetable cultivars are classed as early, midseason, or late, and there can be significant differences in days to maturity.
Often the early cultivars are smaller, but not always, especially with tomatoes. The little ‘Peacevine’ cherry tomato grows on a small, 2- to 3-foot vine and is ready in 50 days. Though it is many times larger than a cherry tomato, the early-maturing cultivar called ‘Early Girl’, a delicious, standard-sized tomato, takes only two days longer to be ready for picking. The Japanese mid- or main-season cultivar ‘Pink Odoriko’ needs a full 76 days to mature. The paste tomatoes are smaller than ‘Early Girl’, but some take 100 days, whereas ‘Big Boy’, a huge, dense tomato, is ready to pick in 78 days.
Often cultivars noted as “early” and “late” withstand cold weather in spring and at the end of the summer more easily than those labeled “midseason.”
Early cultivars of fast-growing crops are especially interesting if you live in a cool climate and are planning succession cropping to maximize the harvest from a small garden. Sown or set out early, when the soil and the weather are changeable, they mature quickly, leaving behind plant material ready for composting and a row ready for a second round of plants.
Not all crops are conveniently labeled “early,”“midseason,” or “late.” Often you must figure that out for yourself. Early cultivars of slow-growing crops, such as the little ‘Scoop 11 Hybrid’ cantaloupe, are not necessarily labeled “early,” but they ripen in 68 to 70 days compared with ‘Ambrosia Hybrid’, which matures in 86 days. The earlier, smaller fruit has time to mature in the short season of the cool upper tier of the country.
Early, or fast-maturing, seed offerings are just what you want for a crop to succeed the early-spring plantings of peas, radishes, and lettuce. The ‘Early Bird Hybrid’ eggplant that matures in 50 days can follow a crop of lettuce, whereas ‘Rosa Bianca’, a beautiful, lavender Italian heirloom eggplant, will not make it before cool weather, because it needs a full three weeks more to mature, 75 days altogether.
Midseason cultivars mature between the early cultivars and the late cultivars. They stay a fairly long time in the garden and have excellent flavor, but may be somewhat smaller than the late cultivars of the same plant. A valuable attribute of midseason cultivars is their capacity to stand up to hot weather better than those noted as either early or late.
The cultivars labeled “late” withstand frost at the end of the growing cycle. Those that mature over a long season, such as the late tomatoes, often have especially rich flavor. Often late cultivars stand up to intense summer heat.