Tasting Home Grown Tomatoes

Our very own Brazoria County Master Gardeners Association and Brazoria County AgriLife Extension just finished hosting a Tomato Celebration, an event supporting Open Garden Days at the Brazoria County Environmental Education Station (BEES garden center) in Angleton this past Saturday, June 9, 2018. The event was a way to show off the gardens while celebrating a popular fruit with our community. Yours truly gave a presentation on tomato culture in Brazoria County, we toured interested friends and family through the many themed garden areas (rose garden, square-foot garden, enabling garden, fruit orchard, etc) and we also hosted a tomato tasting that included 15 different varieties of tomatoes. The tasting was simple: we invited folks to rank each variety on a five-point scale the one that they valued the most for taste and texture (five was highest score). While we did not separate the varieties into size categories, I am taking the opportunity to post the results and provide a few bits of information about the first five varietals listed below (I challenge you to do a bit of work and look up the other listed varietals for comparison):

  1. Chocolate Sprinkles – indeterminate cherry-type hybrid, producing beautiful 1.5-inch red, striped with dark green fruit. Rich sweet flavor and grow in clusters of 5 to 7 fruit, 55 days to maturity.
  2. Tycoon – Texas Superstar® plant, determinate producing 10–12 oz red fruits. Plants are touted for their excellent resistance to pests and diseases, 70 days to maturity.
  3. Currant – indeterminate cherry-type hybrid that is closer in form to wild varieties found in the Andes; one of the smallest tomatoes expressed in clusters of 10 to 15 fruit. An intensely rich but sweet flavor, 75 days to maturity.
  4. Sweetie – indeterminate cherry-type, sweet and produced on vigorous plants to 6-ft tall, 70 days to maturity.
  5. Celebrity/Cherokee Purple – coming in at a tie; Celebrity is an ‘all-purpose’ variety with superb flavor, disease resistance and heavy yield on determinate plants. Fruits average 7 oz, 70 days to maturity. Cherokee Purple offers a rich flavor and outstanding texture on medium-large, flattened globe fruits at 8-12 oz. Dusky pink color with dark, purplish shoulders. Indeterminate, 70 days to maturity.
  6. Mountain Spring/Celebration
  7. Early Girl/BHN 602
  8. Roma
  9. Beefmaster/BHN 871
  10. San Marzano
  11. Big Boy

Tomatoes are one of the most widely grown vegetables in our nation, both personally and commercially. There is truth in what the late, great songwriter Guy Clarke sang ‘Wha’d life be without homegrown tomatoes?’ I cannot think of a time in my youth and adult life where I haven’t grown or been around an acquaintance, relative, friend or friendly gardening competitor not growing a tomato. Tomatoes are quite versatile and can be grown in a variety of environments, from containers on a patio porch for folks with limited space or in the family backyard for easy pickings.

By now your tomatoes should be well on their way to producing and finishing. Easy to grow? Success depends on who you talk to. Like me, you may have experienced signs of nutrient deficiency expressed on the vegetation or fruit, and these challenges are directly related to soil fertility. We may take for granted a few simple site conditions, whether in container or in-ground, to successfully grow tomatoes. Some things to consider are site selection and soil considerations: tomatoes require rich, well-draining soil with a minimum of six hours exposure to direct sunlight per day. One can purchase ready mix soil sold commercially for container growing, and a little more care should be made for in-ground site preparation.

I always encourage clients to have an annual garden soil analysis performed to determine the potential nutrient availability to your vegetable garden. For a modest fee you can send soil samples to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Soil, Forage and Water Testing Laboratory for analysis. Analysis forms and sampling bags for urban landscapes are available at our Extension office, and you can also download a form from the Lab’s website: soiltesting.tamu.edu. I invite you to come by our office for assistance translating the technical information once you receive a report.

One of the challenges I have noticed in my tomato garden this year are leaves curling on newer growth. There are several potential reasons for this deformity: wind damage, herbicide drift, herbicide residue, broad mite or tomato viruses. There is an article written by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Horticulture Specialists Dr. Joe Masabni, Dr. Juan Anciso and Dr. Russel Wallace reviewing the expression caused by either environmental conditions, chemical or biological agents. The vegetative deformity on my tomatoes could possibly be caused by herbicide drift; according to the article, tomato plants are extremely sensitive to hormone-type herbicides like 2-4D or dicamba and can be injured by concentrations as low as 0.1 ppm. Assessing physical symptoms by itself for proper disease identification can be a very subjective process, and if additional symptoms are expressed such as leaf ‘yellowing’ or mottling I will resort (and suggest to you, dear reader) to send in affected samples to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in College Station. More information about this lab can be found from their website: http://plantclinic.tamu.

I close this article by thanking you, dear reader, for your continued support. For more information about horticulture, agriculture or home life improvement programs, browse online: brazoria.agrilife.org or call our office: 979-864-1558. I also invite you to share your ideas and tomato successes in your garden by browsing online to my Facebook webpage: www.facebook.com/stephenbhorticulturist. See you in the garden!

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