Each year, I grow and sell a wide variety of tomatoes at our local West Michigan farmer’s market. I’ll go through the heirloom varieties first, then popular hybrid options
Marglobe is an old commercial variety that still holds its own today. It’s undoubtedly the most Michigan-hardy tomato I’ve grown. It’s the grandfather of modern disease-resistant commercial varieties today. Margolbe tends to resist the most common diseases for Michigan tomatoes.
Both Septoria Leaf Sopt (a viral infection) and Ground Rot (a bacterial infection) are common for outdoor growers of tomatoes in Michigan. Septoria Leaf Spot is often referred to as “the blight” even though that term technically refers to a different disease. Either way, it’s hard on plants and often kills the whole thing.
Marglobe seems to resist the leaf spot better than any variety I’ve grown. I honestly don’t worry about it much at all. We grow a lot of tomatoes for the farmer’s market and some varieties require a lot of pruning and caging care to be healthy. Not the Marglobe. It’s also super delicious.
I don’t know if it’s a thicker plant stem, a better calcium uptake, a more rigorous immune system, or something else. I do know that I can ignore the Marglobes and get very little Septoria Leaf Spot even though it may totally destroy other varieties. They also don’t seem to crack a lot.
Old Brooks tomato is one that doesn’t seem to mind the cooler nights we can get in late summer/fall. Those cool, dewy nights are traditionally hard on tomatoes, making them susceptible to fungal infections. Old Brooks holds its own against common fungal diseases like early blight.
It also thrives in an unirrigated bed. In fact, the healthiest ones I’ve ever seen are grown in an unfertilized, unirrigated corner of the garden; usually by accident. Funny how that works.
Left to themselves, they’ll be healthy, just not very productive. All tomatoes have more disease problems when grown in rows and fed synthetic fertilizer. Old Brooks is not a variety that grows so many tomatoes yo won’t know what to do with them. But, it isn’t a low-end producer. I grow it as a commercial crop.
The fruits are some of the better blemish-free, crack-resistant ones I know of for an heirloom tomato. The flavor certainly is there. My customers love Old Brooks and I plan to grow it every year.
Supice (pronounced stu-pee-ca) is a very productive smaller-sized tomato that sometimes gets hit with Septoria Leaf Spot, but seems to bounce right back even after having what looked like a bad case of the disease. Stupica is my second most prolific tomato, and it has the classic tomato color and flavor.
It looks like a large cherry tomato and the flavor, while on the smoother sweeter side, still has a bit of that sharp bite of a larger tomato. I wouldn’t call it disease-resistant so much as disease-tolerant, but either way, it holds its own.
Stupice isn’t overly seedy or too meaty, it’s a nice in-between tomato. My wife likes to process them for sauce. Because of their size, she just processes them whole, without cutting them up first. the Stupica is a good market variety for me, which means it’s a reliable Michigan tomato.
Vernissage is another smaller tomato. They grow about one to two inches wide and are full of flavor. There are four individual varieties of vernissage; green, yellow, red, and black. They are all incredibly juicy and super productive.
Vernissage tomato is the most vigorously growing, most sprawling tomato I’ve ever grown. It regularly gets 12 or more stems that look more like primary branches than suckers. By weight, the vernissage produces as much as a commercial variety. I get up to half a bushel from each plant.
That’s around 23 pounds at peak production. My vernissage tomatoes (I grow all colors) produce until the first frost, or until I get sick of them and rip them out.
Now, they’re not as incredibly disease-resistant as some varieties I grow, but they seem to manage it well and their crazy growth often outpaces a bad case of Septoria Leaf Spot. With some leaf thinning and good weeding, they do pretty good and we get a ton of really tasty tomatoes from them.
Amish Paste is perhaps the only tomato I’ve not seen get a problem with Soil Rot. I think it’s due to the more rigid cell structure and naturally thicker skin which prevents the bacteria from causing much damage. Amish paste is going to be a staple tomato for me probably forever.
They start out looking suer spindly and pale green, almost yellow, but that’s common with the Roma varieties I hear. The Plant greens up pretty well, but it’s not usually ever as dark green as my other tomato plants.
Amish Paste doesn’t seem to crack much for me, even after a few days of heavy rain. Most heirlooms can’t handle that without splitting. But for me, I need crack-resistant varieties so I can sell them at the market without crying about losing 80 percent of a crop after a rain.
I have seen a little more blossom end rot on these than the other varieties I’ve grown, but I attribute that to often forgetting to water them because they look so good once established. I get less than one bad tomato per plant, so I’m not concerned.
I have these right now growing where I harvested early potatoes in June. My girls seem to love them.
Purple Cherokee is the best heirloom beefsteak variety I know of for growing in Michigan. It’s not as resistant to the Septoria Leaf Sopt as the previous varieties, but it still surprises me with its overall disease resilience.
Sometimes my Purple Cherokee gets hit hard, but with basic leaf thinning, a little pruning maybe, and keeping them off the ground, they do pretty well. The most important part is keeping them off the ground. The fruits are very prone to soil rot when they get good and ripe.
My trick with these is to pick the tomatoes a bit early and ripen them on a shelf. Finishing off the ripening inside stops soil rot, prevents splitting, and keeps slugs from getting them. Like all beefsteak varieties, it’s thin-skinned and soft-fleshed. That means it’s easily damaged when ripe.
Since it’s gotten more common, it’s being bred hard for more disease resistance and that shows. The variety is improving.
Green Zebra seems to be a crack-resistant variety in my experience. A lot of heirlooms just can’t handle the heavy dew all night plus foggy wet mornings that we get so often in the summer. Combine that with a few heavy rainstorms and most heirlooms just split. I’ve never seen splitting problems in Green Zebra.
I’ll admit, I don’t grow a ton of them and only have grown them for three years. But, I tested them in 4 different soils with 3 different watering frequencies and never had an issue with them cracking even when other varieties did.
It shows a good resistance to Septoria Leaf Spot, which is the only tomato tomato disease I’ve ever seen run totally rampant around here. I’ll admit, not everyone likes the flavor of a green type tomato. It will get a bit of a yellow hue when completely ripe. I like the flavor myself.
It’s different but good and it makes an interesting tomato sauce or salsa base. If you are interested in trying something a bit more odd, try Green Zebra. The fruits are smaller medium and pretty juicy.
Rutgers is the first on my list that I don’t grow personally. The only reason I don’t grow it is because I had to stop somewhere. This one is a classic production heirloom that has been used to create many modern commercial varieties due to its tolerances and resistance.
Rutgers is known for resisting cracking and splitting more so than any other tomato. Especially in West Michigan, that’s a solid plus. It’s an amazing-tasting tomato. Nice and thin-skinned, not too sweet or acidic.
It’s More popular with some of the older generation who remember it as one of the primary varieties of the 60s and 70s. The only issue I can say is that most seed stock comes from a very different climate. I really wish I could get some Rutgers seed that was grown in Michigan and selected with more of a local climate tolerance.
It’s just that a locally adapted selection of any tomato seems to handle the 45-degree spring and fall nights and the dewy, cool nights of summer. Cold temperatures are hard on tomatoes. Cool, wet environments tend to breed both fungal diseases and especially Septoria Leaf Spot.
Want to know more? Check out this article: Growing Tomatoes in Michigan (planting, pests, and diseases)
Boxcar willie is a slicing-type tomato with a decent resistance to fungal disorders. It’s a delicious red tomato with a bit of a tangy zip to it. They’re usually big enough to cover a slice of bread.
Boxcar Willie is not one I have personally grown, but I’ve heard several gleaming reports of its better than average disease tolerance and being okay with more wet and damp conditions. It seems to handle the cool nights fine, and it’s a reliable producer.
Better Boy is probably the most common or about the most common hybrid tomato in the US. It’s fairly tasty, firm-fleshed, thick-skinned, and more resistant to common diseases than most heirlooms. While I’ve never grown any hybrid crops, I have been tempted to grow this one. It’s definitely not the worst choice.
Better Boy is one of the standard recommended varieties for commercial growing. It’s a tomato that people usually want to buy. There’s still some susceptibility to Septoria LEaf Sopt, but that’s impossible to completely negate.
Early girl is the most common hybrid tomato I see in home gardens around Michigan. It’s the one that tends to do well for most. It’s vigorous and somewhat disease tolerant.
Although, I know some people who have them die every year. They usually refer to the die-off as “the blight” but it’s generally Septoria Leaf Spot, a virus. That stuff if a real killer sometimes.
Early Girl is one that most people recognize as a classic medium-sized tomato. It’s one that many experienced gardeners seek out at the garden center.
Big Boy is one of the earliest popular hybrid tomatoes. It has the disease resistance of the renowned Marglobe, and of something else. The other parent of Big Boy has been lost to history. It can still get sick if not taken care of, but tends to do better than most heirlooms.
Big Boy is a softer hybrid with more of a true, classic tomato flavor compared to the more prevalent commercial varieties of today. This is the one many older people remember from their youth as a better-tasting tomato.
Super Sweet 100
Super Sweet 100 is a cherry tomato with good disease resistance, very vigorous growing habits, and quite sweet little red fruits. In my experience, the smaller, indeterminate, cluster-type tomatoes tend to better against disease. Super Sweet is known for hardiness and toughness.
It’s quite commonly grown in Michigan with a lot of success even by beginners. Might be worth giving it a try.
Favorita is a hybrid that’s shown an above-average resistance to most viral diseases and to cool temperatures. It’s often recommended as a commercial grower’s option in colder states where 45 degrees can come up in some mornings in the early and later parts of the growing season.
It’s a larger variety of cherry tomato, so it’s no surprise to me that it’s got good resistance. Pretty much all of them seem to.
That was actually 14, not 12. there two for free.
Some of the Worst Tomatoes to Grow in Michigan
In my experience, Brandywine, Betalux, Sub Arctic Plenty, and San Marzano all are more susceptible to fungal and viral infections than I would consider appropriate for my market garden. Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grow them. Sometimes I do.
I grow Btealux, an old Polish heirloom, every year even though half of them end up sickly and may die early. It’s by far my favorite tasting tomato so I’m working on figuring out how to get better at growing it and adapting a stain of it to my specific growing conditions.
Having some locally adapted and locally selected variety of any tomato would tend to be a really good thing. You just can’t get that from any regular garden store.