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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.