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Lots of red tomatoes

A New Taste for The Tomato?

Remember Tasty tomatoes?

I hear it often, “The tomatoes in Florida don’t taste like the ones up north” and “Those grocery store tomatoes don’t have any flavor”. My Mother once noted that a new variety of blueberry, that was just released, did not have any flavor. The fruit was the earliest ripening in the industry, it needed a low number of chill hours, it had a tough enough skin to handle picking and its shelf life was better. It was the latest and the greatest from the plant breeders, but it had no flavor. When hybridizing plants for consumption, flavor had taken a back seat, until now. University of Florida professor Dr. Harry Klee has been working to change the stigma behind what some people claim as bland tasting hybrid tomatoes.

Three Garden Gem tomatoes developed by the University of Florida for a better tasting tomato alternative

Garden Gem Tomatoes developed by the University of Florida for their flavor make a great addition to any garden.photo compliments Dr. Klee’s Lab

What’s in a Hybrid?

Why hybridize tomatoes in the first place when the heirlooms of old are plentiful with flavor? The answer lies in what is known as hybrid vigor. By breeding tomatoes and developing new hybrids, traits like disease resistance, increased production, longer shelf life and durability can be bred into the tomato. Unlike heirloom tomatoes, Tomatoes hybridized through traditional breeding, cannot be grown from their own seeds because the genetics will change the next generation. The fruit, as they are, retain the good traits but any seedling grown from them would yield a different tomato with different traits than the parent plants. Growers need this durability and hybrid vigor to assure that the crop they are growing will do well on its trip from seed to the supermarket shelf.

Garden Gem Tomato

Around five years ago, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science introduced Tasti-Lee as a better tasting and more nutritious tomato, which has the rich red color that tomato connoisseurs look for. Its developer, Dr. John (Jay) Scott, like Dr. Klee, wanted to breed a tomato that stood up to the taste test. Its success inspired Dr. Klee to carry this mission on and create new and tastier varieties. The results of his plant breeding have yielded three new varieties that should soon be in wide production. One of these, Garden Gem, has a 2-2.5 ounce elongated fruit that will produce over a 6 week period and is ready in about 65 days.

Garden Treasure and “W” Hybrid Tomato
Close up of the large red tomato Garden Treasure

A close up of Garden Treasure revels its size and deep color. photo compliments Dr. Klee’s Lab

Garden Treasure, which is a large round 8 ounce fruit, starts ripening at 70 days and continues to fruit as long as the plant stays healthy. The third variety is so new that they just call it “W” Hybrid. It has a 6 ounce fruit and ripens in about 70 days.  W” Hybrid is determinate which means most of the fruit ripens in a short period. Determinate tomatoes are the perfect choice for commercial growers and those gardeners that are looking for a tomato for canning. Indeterminate tomatoes, like Garden Treasure, will produce on new growth as long as the plant grows and stays healthy and the night temperatures stay below 70 degrees. To read more about these three varieties developed by Dr. Klee’s Lab at the University of Florida click Here.

A young boy sits on his grandpas lap on a wagon in the Garden

Gardening is for the young and old alike. IFAS Extension offers something for all ages. Photo IFAS communications

The Highlands County Master Gardeners have acquired a limited amount of seeds from each of these varieties and are presently growing them for their November 17th Garden Festival at the Bert J. Harris Agricultural Center in Sebring. To check out our Garden Festival plans click Here. You can also watch our movie trailer by clicking Here.

Have a plant problem, a bug to ID, or any other horticulture related problem? Come see us at the Master Gardener help desk in the UF/IFAS Cooperative Extension office. Master Gardeners are on duty from 9:30 to 3:30, Monday through Friday.

Like my Hometown Gardener page on Facebook and stay up with the latest horticulture info in Florida’s Heartland.

Read Highlands County Extensions other blogs at http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/highlandsco/

Save the Date for the 2018 Garden Festival by the Highlands County Master Gardeners. November 17th at the Bert J Harris Agricultural Civic Center in Sebring, Fl. For information or to be a vendor email me at davidaustin@ufl.edu

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