By Les Harrison, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director and Clara Foran, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Family and Consumer Sciences Temporary Program Aide
The hot days and humid nights of August 2015 are not prime for vegetable gardening. This period is excellent for evaluating the successes and failure of spring and early summer gardens.
One of the crops evaluated for local performance in the UF/IFAS Wakulla County demonstration garden is tomatoes. There were six cultivars evaluated, four hybrids and two open pollinator heirlooms.
“All the plants were propagated from seed in our greenhouse,” said Master Gardener Volunteer Bill Osbourne. “The plants were all treated exactly alike so we could see how they performed under identical circumstances,” he said.
All of the plants were placed in raised beds on April 20, 2015, a little later than recommended. Ideally, they would have been planted about a month earlier, but were delayed because the first crop of seedlings were lost.
Two of each cultivar were planted. The plants were on the same irrigation system so they received identical volumes of water.
All the tomatoes were harvested, counted and weighed as they ripened. As these were grown under organic production protocols, there were about ten percent losses to insect damage.
The fruiting began in early June with records kept until August 3, 2015. Only Bill Osbourne picked and recorded the data.
Only one cultivar, Tasti-Lee, was a determinate variety. A determinate variety produces all its fruit at about the same time, and an indeterminate produces throughout the season.
“Our best producer was the Early Girl hybrid,” said Osbourne. “The two plants delivered 97 tomatoes weighing 26.1 pounds,” he said.
The yellow cherry tomato hybrid, Sungold, was close behind with 19.1 pounds of production. Over 1400 tasty little yellow tomatoes were produced by the two plants.
The Juliet hybrid came in third with 16.1 pounds and 413 tomatoes. This cultivar produces fruit about twice the size of grape tomatoes.
Tasti-Lee, a UF hybrid developed for south Florida commercial production, came in fourth place with 10.8 pounds and 32 tomatoes. This tomato is revolutionizing commercial production during the winter months.
It is the only tomato which can be picked, processed and shipped red ripe without fear of a very short shelf life. It was selected for its bright red color and superior taste, being marketed currently as a premium product.
The heirloom varieties came in fifth and sixth place in this trial. Granny Cantrell, with origins in Germany by way of Kentucky, delivered 22 tomatoes weighing 10.1 pounds.
Brandywine Red had disease issues, likely from the high temperatures and humidity. The two plants produced only two tomatoes weighing .8 pounds in total.
”Tomatoes contain Vitamins C and A along with lycopene which work as an antioxidant, a cancer retardant,” said Clara Foran, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Family and Consumer Science Program Aide. “Vitamin A also helps to improve vision and maintain strong, shiny hair,” she said.
Other health benefits attributed to tomatoes as part of a healthy diet include Vitamin K and calcium, which are essential in strengthening and performing minor repairs on the bones, as well as the bone tissues of the body. Tomatoes are also high in Vitamin B and potassium, which are both effective in reducing cholesterol levels, and at lowering blood pressure.
To learn more about growing tomatoes in Wakulla County and their health benefits, contact your UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or http://wakulla.ifas.ufl.edu/