It may seem early, but now is the time to pick the tomato varieties you want to grow in your garden this summer, according to an expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

You may have noticed that your seed catalogs showed up earlier than ever this winter, noted Steve Bogash, Penn State Extension horticulture educator based in Franklin County. "With the rapid growth in vegetable gardening, demand promises to be higher than ever," he said. "If there are specific varieties of vegetables that you truly want for the coming season, you may want to get your orders in early."

And Bogash knows -- perhaps better than anyone -- that there is a huge range of tomato cultivars from which to choose.

"Here at the Penn State Extension office in Chambersburg, Pa., we've been running variety trials focusing on tomatoes since 2000," he said. "We've evaluated more than 300 varieties across the complete spectrum of tomato types in that time. Every year we examine 30 to 70 varieties, looking at taste, production, disease resistance, ease of training and appearance.

"Some varieties have floated to the top of our list as great for your garden."

Following are some varieties Bogash recommends that you consider for the coming season, along with his comments about them:

Cherry/Grape types

-- Sakura Honey. "When you examine and taste many tomatoes, it's rare for one kind to make a major impression, but this variety really stood out from the pack in 2011 with amazing flavor and beautiful, pink, grape-shaped fruit. This was easily the standout in flavor in last season's program."

-- Red Pearl. "Excellent flavor, tender skin, high production and moderate disease resistance made Red Pearl another top pick from our 2011 trial program. This variety has good red color and is highly resistant to cracking."

-- Five Star. "2011 was the year of the grape tomato in our trials program. Five Star was another great producer with good-looking, well-flavored fruit. This one has very few seeds and is highly resistant to cracking."

-- Maglia Rosa. "This is a very unusual variety, as the fruit are an elongate, cherry type that are mottled pink. Our tasters describe the flavor as ketchup-like. In both 2010 and 2011, the plants produced for only about five weeks, but they did make a lot of fruit that was well worth the garden space."

-- Sun Gold. "No tomato article is complete without a mention of Sun Gold. This yellow-orange tomato is the candy of the tomato world. Production is high, the plants are moderately resistant to disease, and the fruit taste is awesome, but the fruit crack like mad. Every gardener should have one or two of these plants, so there is something to eat while gardening."