Because all gardening is local


Coastal SC tomato trials

This is a difficult place to grow tomatoes. The weather is hot and humid, yet tends toward drought in many seasons. For us, gardening is all about tomatoes before we even consider any other veggie. So we tried a number of heirlooms and two hybrids this spring, and rated them for a variety of characteristics.
We are trying to find the ones that will give us consistent yields under our conditions. Many varieties that do well in other areas are junk here. And even varieties that seem OK often fail the final test – taste!
We are now finished with our evaluation, except for Green Zebra, which was planted late and probably can’t be fairly evaluated. For most varieties, even those that claim to be heat tolerant, EARLY is the name of the game. Many folks around here won’t set out tomatoes until Easter weekend. That was nearly a month too late this year!
All were planted in raised beds (40% local fine sandy loam, 40% compost, 10% crushed coquina, 10% crushed charcoal), with minimal fertilizer, no pesticides, hot and dry weather except for a three day rainy spell in late May which didn’t give much rain, but stayed wet and started off early blight), watered with rainwater as long as possible, then town water, mostly with soaker hose to avoid wetting leaves. An exception was the two cherry types, which are planted in buckets; otherwise culture is similar. We have excellent biological pest control; no tomato worms or other insect pests have been present. Blossoms were actively pollinated by bumblebees, so early set was very good.
Main crop (red globe) tomatoes
Abe Lincoln tomato

Abe Lincoln has exceeded all other varieties this year in growth, fruit set, fruit sizing, and disease resistance.

A surprise winner for us was from a chance packet I picked up at a hardware store. It’s an heirloom from Illinois! Abe Lincoln has clearly won the overall race. In volume, it has produced more – and kept on going through the heat – better than any other variety. Almost every fruit is perfect; no cracking, no blossom end rot (BER), no sunscald – and the icing on the cake is the excellent taste. The plants are stocky and vigorous, and obviously the most disease resistant variety we have. I just can’t say enough good about them.
Ozark Pink from Arkansas was our taste test winner, until the Cherokee Purple finally ripened. But this would have to take second place as all around tomato, due to less production than Abe Lincoln. It’s also one of the four that is still setting significant fruit despite some three digit temperatures. I will plant this one again.

Marion tomato

Marion has done very well in this year's test

Marion came in pretty good, just a bit behind Ozark Pink, because it petered out earlier. But it gave us a big crop of fine tasting tomatoes with few blemishes.
Super Sioux BER

Super Sioux had serious blossom end rot at first, then improved in the latter part of the season.

We had high hopes for Super Sioux, a Nebraska heirloom, but it did not meet expectations. Taste is not to brag about, and it is susceptible to BER. The BER did clear somewhat after the first flush, and it went on to be a heavy producer for a short time, then tapered off, but is still making some late tomatoes.
Homestead is a popular variety, and I expected much more of it, but truth to tell, has now disappointed me three seasons in a row. Early blight, insipid taste, hard green shoulders, and unimpressive production give this one the boot from future trials.
Park's Whopper tomato

Park's Whopper has proven to be a reliable yielder.

Of our two hybrids, Parks Whopper was the best, but it’s certainly no match for Abe Lincoln! It produced quickly and heavily, then petered out just as quickly when it got hot. It also had more early blight than I want to see.
The second hybrid, Big Boy, is just not up to the task. It was heavily infected with early blight, and faded out just as it began production. Many of the fruits were also small. Both hybrids were decent in the taste department, but not outstanding. I won’t grow this one again.
Box Car Willie only had one fruit per plant (my grandson picked when I wasn’t paying attention, and mixed with others, so didn’t have a chance to taste). The dismal production was largely due to early blight.
Italian Heirloom was also very a poor producer, and very late. I got one tastable fruit off the dying plants (early blight). It was OK in taste, but not worth another try.
Sauce tomatoes
The traditional sauce tomato, Roma, was a big flop. Early blight hit it hard and production was poor, though the few fruits it did have were OK. Of course all the sauce tomatoes were insipid and kind of dry in our taste tests, so they aren’t really recommended for fresh eating.
Rio Grande tomato

Rio Grande - better than Roma for sauce - larger, more disease-resistant, much more yield. Some BER.

Rio Grande - a heat tolerant improvement on Roma from Texas waaaayyy outproduced Roma. It proved resistant to early blight and is continuing to set fruit even as I write this evaluation on July 1. It is also quite a bit larger than Roma.  Its main problem is BER, and this did cut production somewhat; otherwise it would have been a huge producer.
Black Plum tomato

Black Plum has excellent taste as a fresh tomato, except for a slightly mealy texture. Mainly for sauce.

Black Plum – small but mighty. I wish these were larger, as they add a lot of flavor to sauce. They’ve done well, disease resistant, and productive even after the heat came. Flavor is excellent, and it would be a great fresh eating tomato, if it weren’t a bit mealy in texture. I will grow it again.
Specialty tomatoes

Cherokee Purple tomato

Cherokee Purple won the taste test, but it was hard to get enough of one to taste, because most fruits split deeply as they were ripening, allowing spoilage and insects inside.

Cherokee Purple makes a huge tomato that easily wins the taste contest. But alas, we had a hard time getting fruit to taste! It’s a very late variety, and is  highly prone to deep splits, which allow spoilage and bugs to ruin the fruit.
I will try it again, but won’t invest a lot of space, due to lack of net productivity. The fruits we did get are the best sandwich fruit we have.
Verja’s Paradajz have produced in great abundance and enormous size – some as big as a softball! The oxheart heirloom from Bosnia is reputed to be fantastic in other areas. But here, they are running about 90% BER – and it’s massive, not just a little on the end. And the ones that don’t have BER have split deeply and been ruined. We had trouble getting part of one to taste. The taste is good, but not good enough to enter our next tomato trials.
Cherry types
Large Red Cherry is a great tasting snack tomato (you can pop the whole thing in your mouth, crush it, suck out the good parts and spit out the skin – big tomatoes that you have to bite will squirt juice all over your shirt.) I have these all in two and five gallon containers, with the larger ones producing better.
Yellow Pear is also for snacks. It’s sweeter and has less zing than the Red Cherry, but still is nice. Both of the cherry types produce many fruits, but not a lot of total volume of fruit. They both continue flowering setting in the hottest weather (my bumblebees love them).
I’m planning my fall tomato production, and will be starting seeds soon. And we will continue testing varieties next spring, God willing. Some varieties that have been suggested to us for testing are: Black Krim, Arkansas Traveler, Stupice, Green Zebra, Kosovo, Matina, Red Calabash, Brandywine, Neptune, Zhezha, Red Georgia, and Floridade.
Anyone have any other suggestions, or comments on the ones already mentioned?
Note: Some varieties were obtained from swaps. Abe Lincoln was from Ferry Morse Seed Co.  Ozark Pink, Black Plum, and Super Sioux were from Hazzard Wholesale Seeds.

One Response to “Coastal SC tomato trials”

  1. July 3rd, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Sharon says:

    I am trying the heirloom Roma-type tomato called, De Pinto this year in Texas and so far, I’m impressed with the results. You might want to run trials on it just for pure massive production!

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