GardenSouth

Because all gardening is local

Flower

Tomato variety trials – some notes so far

We are testing some tomato varieties to see how well they do in our unique environment. Many varieties that do well in the northland are pretty poor producers here. In Coastal South Carolina, heat is a killer; already in June we have hit 101 and have been in the mid to high 90s for the first half of the month. Humidity is also very high, though we are prone to drought – which we have right now. My tomatoes are all in raised beds, and are watered as needed – with rainwater if I have it; when that runs out we use town water.

The soil is a mix of about 40% fine sandy loam, 40% compost, 10% crushed coquina, and 10% crushed charcoal. Some of these beds are in their second year and were amended with about one inch of new compost. The soil has been stirred as little as possible.

On all tomato varieties the lower leaves and lower suckers are removed. No leaves are allowed to touch the soil. No chemicals have been used, although we are considering the use of some mild ones for the future to see if we can retard early blight.

Biological control by the many paper wasps and assassin bugs apparently is keeping tomato worms out of the picture. Marigolds are also planted around the raised beds. These are reputed to be helpful in repelling insects, but we don’t know if it is a factor for any tomato pests.

Pollination is ensured by abundant bumble bees on our wild bee refuge, and the bumbles are often seen “buzzing” the flowers. This is called sonication, or buzz pollination, which releases great quantities of pollen with resonant vibrations.

Two varieties have already been sufficiently tried to say they’ve passed the taste test with flying colors. These are the large red cherry and the Abe Lincoln. For others, we have not harvested or we are wanting more samples to give a fair test.

One variety has a serious weakness – Super Sioux:

Super Sioux BER

Super Sioux BER

This one is close to being disqualified for further tests, with blossom end rot (BER) spoiling about 20% of the early harvest. If all the rest of the production comes clean, MAYBE, I’ll try it again.

Another one that’s pretty sorry is Homestead, which is supposed to be a heat tolerant variety. But this is the third year of testing for me; the plants are puny and they aren’t very heavily loaded with fruit, nor is the fruit sizing up well. They are also highly infected with early blight. I see no reason to continue testing this, especially with the limited amount of space I have.

Marion has proved the opposite of Homestead, though they are supposed to be related.

Marion tomato

Marion tomato

This variety produced large stocky plants that set a large quanty of tomatoes that are sizing up very well. They have some early blight on the lower branches, but the harvest appears to be outracing the disease. Only the taste test awaits to see if these get the thumbs up.

Abe Lincoln is already a winner, having proven its taste as excellent. The plants are extremely stocky, vigorous, and deep green, with no sign of any disease whatsoever. They are heavily loaded and already yielding ripe tomatoes.

Abe Lincoln tomato

Abe Lincoln tomato

Rio Grande looks very good, with a very good set, and no disease. It has not yet produced a ripe tomato.

Rio Grande tomato

Rio Grande tomato

Cherokee Purple also looks good, with good set and large tomatoes. None have ripened yet for tasting.

Cherokee Purple tomato

Cherokee Purple tomato

Black Plum is supposed to be more of a sauce tomato, but we find it to be excellent in taste. It has some early blight, but the yield should be good before the blight takes over.

Black Plum tomato

Black Plum tomato

One surprise for us is Verja’s Paradajz. It was tried last year and it just didn’t set enough fruit to really test it. This year, perhaps with our much higher bumblebee population, it set fairly well and the tomatoes are very large. It also has no disease evident at all.

Verja's Paradajz tomato

Verja's Paradajz tomato

And finally, besides the heirlooms, we have two hybrids this year – Park’s Whopper and Big Boy.  I am cutting back on hybrids, partly because I want to save seeds from at least some varieties. But these two are long respected as heavy producers, so I continued to try them. I must say that Big Boy is out of the running at this point. I won’t be growing it again. It is full of early blight, and I think some of the later tomato set is just not going to make it. There won’ be enough leaf surface to feed the fruit. We will get some of the early fruit, and that’s it.

Whopper is doing well, though it also has some early blight. But I expect we’ll get a very good crop before the blight gets these plants. I’ve grown Park’s Whopper several times over the years, and it has proven to be a very reliable producer. The flavor is also quite good.

Park's Whopper tomato

Park's Whopper tomato

We’ll return to this topic soon with more comments and photos.

Leave a Reply