A Garden Visit with Bill Adams by Patty G. Leander

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Tomato aficionado Bill Adams, horticulturist•educator•author

Tomatoes rule the spring season and with that in mind Jay and I decided to visit with tomato guru Bill Adams in our second feature on Lone Star gardeners.

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Bill’s books are excellent reads, both informative and entertaining

After all, Bill is the author of several garden-related books, including “The Texas Tomato Lovers Handbook” (2011), and he has been growing, testing and tasting tomatoes well over 40 years, much of it in the official capacity as the A&M Extension Horticulturist for Harris County. Together with friend, collaborator and former Extension colleague Tom LeRoy, Bill has solved thousands of horticulture dilemmas and taught a multitude of aspiring gardeners the commonsense approach to growing vegetables.

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Tomatoes at every turn

A visit to Bill’s vegetable garden is nothing less than exhilarating. He is a walking, talking horticultural encyclopedia and shares unexpected nuggets of knowledge at every turn. Last year he grew over 40 varieties of tomatoes, evaluating each one for flavor, texture and overall quality. He is frank and honest in his assessment, the winners get his seal of approval and the duds get panned.

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A sampling of fruit I brought home after a visit to Bill’s tomato paradise. He marks the “ugly side” with a marker to keep track of varieties, and then he can photograph the good side.

Bill has staying power, too. Even after retirement he remains active in the Garden Writer’s Association and continues to educate and entertain gardeners at nursery talks, garden events and conferences. He and Tom will be giving their annual Spring Vegetable Class at Arbor Gate Nursery on March 5.

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Judging tomatoes at Arbor Gate’s annual tomato contest

Bill will also be judging tomatoes at three different events this season: May 21, 10:00 AM at Enchanted Forest in Richmond, May 21, 2:00 PM at Enchanted Gardens in Richmond, and June 11, 10:00 AM at Arbor Gate in Tomball. Bring your tastiest tomatoes and go for the gold!

For a rundown of Bill’s winners and losers from his 2015 tomato trials visit: http://arborgate.com/blog/tried-and-true-in-2016/

Name:  William D. (Bill) Adams

Location:  South Central Texas—near Burton

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The Adams kitchen garden

Years gardening in this garden:  Ten

Favorite thing to grow:  Tomatoes

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‘Marianna’s Peace’ – according to Bill it’s so good you’ll want to lick the juice off the plate

Best growing tip:  Organic matter, especially compost, must be constantly on your agenda—“The gardener with the most compost wins”.

Best pest control tip:  Try to be in the garden every day and know your pests.  Use cultural techniques and low-toxicity pesticides to win the battle.  In my experience planting twice as much as needed so the pests can have their half doesn’t work—they know the best tasting varieties and they will sample it ALL.

Best weed control tip:  Use a combination of newspapers, cardboard, whatever to suppress the weeds and cover it with mulch to keep the paper from blowing away.  Wet the paper first to keep it in place while you go for mulch.

Biggest challenge:  Finding the best tasting varieties.

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A trio of good looking tomatoes from the 2015 season: ‘Red Mountain’, ‘Cherokee Purple’, ‘Caiman’

 

Favorite soil amendment:  Mushroom compost-about 14 cubic yards per season in our garden. (this translates to approximately 12 inches of compost on the vegetable rows and 6-8 inches around the orchard trees)

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The gardener with the most compost wins!

Preserving the harvest: We can and freeze tomatoes and hot sauce; make wonderful Bread and Butter pickles….and we have a good record of using them. Froze a bunch of leeks several years ago and they’re about ready for the compost pile—sometimes we lose track.

Favorite advice:  Garden for fun but garden like you mean it.  I’m a fanatic about organic matter but I’m not an organic gardener.  I grow a lot of crops that are never sprayed, I use organic and soluble fertilizers, low-toxicity pesticides-only when needed and I’m in the garden virtually every day.  If a crop is worth saving (the critters/diseases haven’t already done too much damage), and the pests can be controlled with a registered pesticide (organic or low-toxicity chemical) I win!

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Tomato Varieties for 2013 By William Adams ©

The following varieties should do well on their own roots.  Some claim nematode resistance (N) and that seems to be a primary factor in achieving late season/fall production.

Nematodes can decimate a tomato's root system.  Photo By Bruce Leander

Nematodes can decimate a tomato’s root system. Photo By Bruce Leander

Celebrity N, Champion (Champion II seems to be the main variation of this variety left, fruits are a bit smaller but it is N resistant. Regular Champion may be too virus susceptible), Better Boy N, Viva Italia N, Tomande N, Juliet (small, saladette type), Momotaro, Early Goliath N, Tycoon, Fourth of July (Campari size).   Cherry types= Sungold, Tomaccio, , Sweet 100, Sweet Million N, Sweet Chelsea N, BHN 968 N.

Juliet is always a great choice for the fall garden.  This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

Juliet is always a great choice for the fall garden. This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

This second list of varieties may produce fine early in the season, especially on new soils and on soils where nematode susceptible plants haven’t been grown for several years but they can really produce much better crops when grafted on nematode resistant rootstock.  Even varieties on the previous list that don’t claim nematode resistance may need to be grown as grafts on nematode resistant rootstock to improve productivity.  (Johnny’s Seeds does offer special rootstock varieties but the home gardener may want to go with cheaper and easier to find seed like Celebrity for their initial grafting experiments—see Johnny’s website for tomato grafting instructions.  Rotating to non susceptible crops like sweet corn, planting cereal rye as a fall cover crop (use a line trimmer and dig in-in the spring), dry tilling in the late summer (nematodes need moisture to survive) and solarizing the soil=work the soil up, dampen and cover with a single layer of clear, UV resistant plastic for at least 60 days during the July-September time period to reduce nematode populations.

Black Krim is a very tasty addition to the fall garden.  This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

Black Krim is a very tasty addition to the fall garden. This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

Black Sea Man, Black from Tula, Black Krim, Moskvich, Flamme, Cherokee Purple, Marianna’s Peace (a favorite in 2012), J D’s Central Texas Early Black, Persimmon, Purple Calabash, Kosovo, German Johnson, Green Zebra and Talladega Hybrid.  All of these varieties from both lists have excellent flavor and texture

© 2012 Tomato Season Wrap Up by Bill Adams

There weren’t many new tomato discoveries to brag about this year.  What started out as a pretty good season with low insect/mite numbers due to last year’s extreme drought combined with the blessing of occasional rains, wound down with persistent heat and a buildup of stinkbugs—both the Leaf-footed variety and the shield-shaped ones.  It does seem curious that the only tomato varieties that are coming back from the spring planting are the hybrids that have nematode resistance and heirlooms that were grafted on nematode resistant rootstock (Emperador from Johnny’s Seeds).  Emperador is not in the 2012 catalog but Colosus F1 is listed as a more productive replacement.

2012 was a bad year for stink bugs

The most outstanding new heirloom for us in 2012 was Marianna’s Peace.  This large, somewhat oblong and cherry-red tomato had some slight folding but not a drastic amount of core typical of these large heirlooms.  It had good acidity and the complex, sweet tomato flavors that we lust for in a tomato.  In short it was “lap over a burger wonderful” and “lick the juice off the plate tasty”.  These large fruits are produced on a potato-leaved plant and production continued into early August.  This variety will definitely be tried on hybrid rootstock this year.

The most outstanding new heirloom for 2012 was Marianna’s Peace. This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

I had almost forgotten how good Juliet is.  This small saladette type tomato has excellent flavor and it is extremely productive, often surviving into the fall.  The skin might be a bit tough but it’s really not objectionable.  Restaurants even mention it on the menu—“Bibb lettuce with Juliet tomatoes”.

Viva Italia is almost like a big sister to Juliet, great flavor, bigger and productive long into the season.  Gets some Early Blight in a wet spring but usually recovers for production in late summer and fall.  Fungicides can keep it productive throughout the season.

Jaune Flamme has good nematode resistance. This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

Speaking of fall—this year we planted Fourth of July a Campari style tomato (golf ball size/large clusters) with great flavor.  This is one of Burpee’s best and here it produces long before Fourth of July when planted in early spring and it often lasts into late summer and fall.  Planted in June/July it looks like a good fall targeted tomato.

Purple Calabash is a great black heirloom with good nematode resistance. This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

Rowdy Red is supposedly a favorite of Clint Eastwood and though not much larger than a baseball with a nipple end it has great flavor and production.  Our plant is still alive in October and trying to produce more fruit.  We would plant it again—maybe I’ll set an empty chair next to it for support.

Kosovo was a great tasting oxheart but the plants faded in the heat. This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

Kosovo, a big Oxheart type was a surprise.  It not only grew well and was fairly productive, it tasted great too.  Might have to try this one on nematode-resistant rootstock since it did fade out in the heat.  Thinking about using Celebrity or Better Boy since the seed is cheaper compared to the specialty rootstock varieties from Johnny’s.

Tycoon looks like it could be our new mainstay tomato variety.  Grown commercially and harvested green, is not much to brag about.  But vine ripe out of the garden, it is delicious.  My Champion tomatoes got ringspot virus rather quickly this year so they may not be a good main crop choice anymore where you’ve grown tomatoes for a long time.  Celebrity is still a good main variety too.

Cherokee Purple is a great tasting heirloom with good nematode resistance. This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

Some other good candidates for hybrid/nematode resistant roots include Persimmon, Cherokee Purple, German Johnson, Flamme, any of the black tomatoes like Black from Tula, Purple Calabash, etc.  Brandywine has been a disappointment in this area—on its own roots or when grafted.  Even some standard and hybrid varieties don’t claim nematode resistance anymore—perhaps too much emphasis on breeding for virus resistance—so don’t rule them out for nematode-resistant roots either.  Check out Johnny’s website for tomato grafting info, pick up some single edge razor blades and order some clips from Johnny’s.

German Johnson was another great tasing tomato with good nematode resistance. This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

The 2013 catalogs will start arriving soon.  Don’t wait until after December 21 to order (word is the Mayan’s ran out of rock and scientists have found an addendum calendar rock) or you may not get the varieties you want.  If you plant early (Mid-February in south-central Texas) you need to start seed in January.

Black From Tula is a great tasting slicer. Plus, it is very resistant to nematodes. This photo is the copyrighted property of William D Adams and cannot be published without written permission from William D Adams.

Five Must Grow Tomatoes by William D. Adams

I am truly blessed to be able to call many of the top horticulturists in the country friend.  My work at A&M has exposed me to so many people that are truly experts in their fields of study.  I call these people “Masters of Horticulture”.  I started this blog because I was so inspired by these experts and all they were teaching me that I wanted to be able to document it and share it with others.

Today’s guest author, William (Bill) D. Adams, is one of these Masters of Horticulture.  He and I became aquainted through a theater group we both support.  Soon after we met, Bill read a little article that I had written for Hort Update.  He encouraged me to write more and even acted as my sponsor for the Garden Writer’s Association.  The rest as they say is history.

Bill spent 31 years honing his craft as an extension specialist in Harris County.  Upon retirement he set out to learn everything there was to know about the tomato.  His efforts have resulted in the publication of the “Texas Tomato Lover’s Handbook“.  This best selling, comprehensive work tells you everything you need to know so you can grow the best tomatoes possible in the difficult and unpredictable Texas climate.  As you will see when you read his book, Bill’s extensive research (which means growing EVERY tomato he mentions) has made him the UNDISPUTED tomato king of Texas.  Because of this, I am thrilled to share this article about the best tomatoes for your Texas garden from the King himself.  Enjoy!

Five Must Grow Tomatoes by William D. Adams

Tomato varieties come and go but the ones with great flavor, a juicy, melting flesh and healthy, easy-to-grow vines are the ones we treasure.  Narrowing the list to five is almost impossible for a true tomato lover so forgive me if I throw in a few alternates.

Medium to medium-large slicer—a tomato that will make you burger zing, your BLT complete and your neighbors envious.  Champion Hybrid is still at the top in this category but you could make do with Celebrity, Talladega or Tycoon.  Any of these tomato varieties makes the grade when it comes to nice acidity (though not just sour), complex sweet tomato flavors and a melting to firm flesh (no grainy or brick hard tomatoes in this bunch).

Here is a pic of Bill in his 2010 trial garden. He grew, tested, compared and documented 89 varieties that year!

Medium size and so scrumptious you will lick the juice from the plate.  Momotaro, a Japanese pink tomato was the hit of the tomato patch in 2010 (one of eighty nine varieties in the authors test garden-only tried about 50 varieties in 2011).  This tomato had acidity, sweet tomato flavor and a wonderful melting texture.  It’s as good as any heirloom with less cracking and more production.

Persimmon is an heirloom that my wife Debbi insists I grow every year.  It is a big, orangery-red, persimmon colored tomato that will lap over a burger.  Total yield isn’t that great but we don’t care.  This year we are growing it grafted on hybrid rootstock to see if we can produce more of these delicious beauties.

Plant one of the Black tomatoes or a yellow, green or white one just to be different.  The black tomatoes—often referred to Black Russian tomatoes are very tasty—they are often described as “having Smokey undertones”.  They also have some acid zip and a depth of flavor that the most accomplished wine connoisseur will be challenged to describe.  Recent favorites include Cherokee Purple, Black from Tula and Black Sea Man.  The plum-shaped Nyagous has been a hit in previous years.  Green Zebra is refreshing, Flamme is an orange “golf ball” with lip smacking flavor and Snow White cherry is sweet and mild (best when pale yellow).

Cherry tomatoes are typically delicious but one of the best is Sweet Chelsea.  Sweet 100, Sweet Million, Rite Bite, BHN 624, Sun Cherry and Sungold will also wake up your taste buds.  Don’t set out too many cherries or you’ll be picking fruit every night until dark.

Watering in several “Black From Tula” seedlings that I started from seed.