Thomas J. Koske | 12/2/2005 2:34:05 AM
Tomatoes are the quintessential garden vegetable whose fans can be as loyal and vocal as those who bleed purple and gold for the LSU Tigers. Very few gardeners don’t grow tomatoes.
LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. Tom Koske says to order your seed now while a supply is still available. Start seed in January to have about eight weeks of growth before transplanting.
"Many folks are more concerned about taste than the way a tomato variety produces, but we should strike a balance," Koske says.
For him, a tomato not only has to taste good, but it has to grow well in the garden.
"A great tasting tomato is of little interest to me if it won’t produce well for me," the horticulturist asserts, adding, "Looking through the catalogs, you’re led to believe all varieties produce well and taste great, but that’s not true."
One of his favorites is the old Better Boy. This hybrid vining tomato has good flavor and adequate disease resistance, including resistance to nematodes. You can also find this in 90 percent of the garden centers, which is a convenience factor.
Another of his favorites that is commonly available is Celebrity, a sturdy, determinate (bush-like growth) vine.
"If you can’t make spring tomatoes with Celebrity or Better Boy, then you probably can’t make tomatoes," Koske quips.
For flavor, his favorite is the old Creole open-pollinated (non-hybrid) cultivar. It produces a good crop, has some disease resistance and has late-spring heat tolerance. His list of honorable mentions includes Monte Carlo, Merced, Terrific and Mountain Spring.
For a variety that yields a large tomato, he suggests Big Beef. It is an AAS (All-America Selections) winner.
If the Spotted Wilt Virus is eating your lunch tomatoes, select two new cultivars that have done well against it. They are BHN 640 and Amelia. The flavor is just okay, but at least you’ll have tomatoes.
Growing tomatoes in summer is a real challenge, because the heat creates growth and physiological problems that cause most cultivars not to pollinate. Several new releases have addressed this problem. They may not be as tasty as a spring-grown crop, but they generally will produce. These determinate vine varieties are Heatwave, Solar Set, BHN 640, Sunmaster and Sunleaper. Set them out in late May or June.
Last, but not least, is a perennial favorite – the cherry group. This group rarely misses in flavor and can set some fruit even in the heat. Koske’s top pick is the variety Jolly, followed by Mountain Belle, which tastes very good and is extremely productive. Cherry Grande is a determinant that also does well. Juliet AAS makes great, elongated grape style fruit that holds well. It’s a winner, too.
Of the smaller fruits, Koske’s personal favorite is Sweet Million, but he says his family has grown to love the flavor of the "black"-type, or Russian tomatoes. The Black Cherry cultivar produces tasty cherries long into summer.
"With cherry types, you can hardly go wrong, and most taste good to excellent," Koske says.
For more recommended varieties and production practices, see LSU AgCenter publication 1902, "Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden." It is available through your local county agent or the LSU AgCenter Web site, www.lsuagcenter.com.
Source: Tom Koske (225) 578-2222, or firstname.lastname@example.org