by Sam Maupin, Port Orchard, Wash., October 2013
The Brothers Greenhouses conducted an informal trial of 42 different tomato varieties. The purpose was to examine the performance of these plants during the 2013 growing season. The productivity of each plant was measured by counting and weighing the fruit. The flavor quality of each variety was evaluated during a tasting event on September 7th, 2013. The tomatoes were grown outdoors in full exposure, using methods that can be easily applied by average gardeners. We invited the public to view the trial in progress and help us evaluate the results.
The tomato rated as having the best overall flavor was sun sugar. The most productive tomato by weight was unfortunately unidentifiable because it was a grafted variety that was different from its label. We called this plant “Grafted ?” and it produced 25.7 pounds of fruit. Red grape produced 904 fruits, which was more than any other. Beefmaster produced the biggest fruits with an average size of 9.4 ounces. All of the varieties in the trial produced fruit. The only variety that did not produce enough fruit to justify its retail cost as a transplant was grafted mortgage lifter.
Tomatoes are one of the most popular plants grown by American gardeners. This is true even in western Washington, where the climate creates a relatively short growing season. Gardeners here often struggle with crop productivity, and may finish the growing season with no ripe fruit at all.
The Brothers Greenhouses produces a large variety of tomato plants to satisfy the demand of a diverse customer base. We carefully select varieties that are well suited for our region, however, we are inexperienced growing many types through fruiting stage. This trial will help us understand and compare the performance of each type. The information gathered will be useful for crop planning and choosing production methods. We hope the information we gather will help the local community be as successful and productive as possible when growing tomatoes.
Materials and Methods
Tomato plants were all grown outdoors in 10-gallon pots filled with reused soil. Carpenito Brothers Chicken Compost was used as an amendment to provide fertility. Each pot was fitted with a single-drip irrigation line for equal water distribution. Plants were staked and supported as needed.
Plants grown in the trial were started from seed in early spring, although not all varieties were sown on the same date. Four varieties of grafted tomatoes being trialed were by far the largest transplants. One tomato, grafted at The Brothers Greenhouses, was the smallest at the time of transplant. Not all of the plants were grown under uniform light conditions due to shading by nearby trees, however, each plant received enough light to produce fruit.
Fruit was harvested and counted until the plants died. Only ripe, marketable fruit was harvested. The different varieties were evaluated for growth habit, disease resistance, productivity, and quality and flavor of fruit.
The flavor of the tomatoes was reviewed by volunteer tasters on September 7th. Only tomatoes that were ripe on that day were tested. Some volunteers brought their home grown tomatoes to be tasted. The volunteer tasters were given a score card for each tomato trialed. The score card gave the tasters an opportunity to rate different tasting characteristics of varieties they chose to sample. The tasters were not required to review every characteristic or trial every tomato available. Tomatoes were trialed in no particular order.
Variety - General Observations
This season was great for growing tomatoes in Kitsap County. If it weren’t for heavy September rains we expect it could have been even better. It is encouraging that all of the varieties trialed produced fruit. It is disappointing that the most productive plant cannot be identified at this time. We plan to repeat the trial next season with minor changes to the varieties grown. Input from the public will guide us in selecting varieties for trial. The following is an interpretation of how the different classes of tomatoes compared.
Grafted vs. Standard:
The grafted varieties got off to a faster start, and generally began producing earlier than their standard counterparts, however, final plant size was very similar and they had no greater resistance to late blight. We did not see grafted yields that were twice as high as grafting companies advertised. The only plant in the trial that was mislabeled by the supplier was grafted, but it was also the most productive.
Heirloom vs. Hybrid:
Productivity depends on variety. Brandywine and Mortgage Lifter were disappointing heirlooms, but Siberian, Marglobe, Marmande Paris and Chocolate Cherry were all very impressive. The only major disease issue was late blight, and the only variety with good resistance was Stupice, an heirloom.
Determinate vs. Indeterminate:
The Roma types (determinate) were generally the most productive in the end. Red Grape, Hi Brix, and Red Candy all seemed to grow like little Romas, and were incredibly productive. Although they produced most heavily at the end of the season, some fruit from determinate types ripened early in the season. The determinate plants grew large and needed staking. The indeterminate varieties produced more evenly, although they were more productive late in the season, too.
Cherry vs. Slicer
Cherry tomatoes generally begin to produce earlier than most slicing types. Cherry tomatoes are more laborious to pick and process, but they are very prolific. In general, they produce as much weight as slicing tomatoes. The flavor of cherry tomatoes was generally rated higher than slicing tomatoes, but the appearance of a big, round slicing tomato is very attractive to consumers.
Selecting a tomato variety to grow is a very personal decision. There are so many varieties available, there seems to be a type for every garden.