Tomato Evaluation Project

— Written By and last updated by Tamara Carawan
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raised beds with tomato plants

Over the past couple of months, the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Pamlico County office along with our Master Gardener℠ volunteers, have been growing and evaluating several different tomato varieties. With help from the Pamlico County High School Agriculture Program, we produced our own transplants and planted seven different tomato varieties in several locations across Pamlico County. Our goal has been to evaluate the productivity and disease resistance of these plants, and to offer our observations to citizens to improve their tomato growing experience. With our tomatoes just beginning to ripen, we can now share some of the observations we have collected so far.

Our current variety selection includes:

Variety Growth Habit Determinate – Plants grow to approximate 4-5 feet, set fruit all at once, then do not continue to grow or crop.
Rutgers 39 Determinate, Open-Pollinated
Cherokee Purple Indeterminate, Open-Pollinated
Betterboy Indeterminate, Hybrid
Celebrity Determinate, Hybrid Indeterminate – Plants continue to grow and set fruit from planting until frost.
*Amelia Determinate, Hybrid
*Mountain Majesty Determinate, Hybrid
*Primo Red Determinate, Hybrid

To learn more about different tomato varieties and their characteristics, visit the Rutgers University Experiment Station.

These tomatoes were chosen because they are commonly available to home gardeners, with three varieties (Amelia, Mountain Majesty, Primo Red) carrying resistance to Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus. This virus is the most common disease observed in tomatoes grown in Pamlico County and we highly recommend to include at least one resistant variety into your home garden when possible.

Two of our seven varieties are open-pollinated plants, meaning seeds from these plants can be saved from fruits produced this year and replanted to produce similar fruit next year. Five of our seven varieties are hybrid varieties, which means these plants can only be produced by cross pollinating two different tomato varieties. Seed saved from fruits of hybrid varieties can be replanted but will not produce plants with similar characteristics next year. However, hybrid plants generally carry greater plant vigor and improved disease resistance over open-pollinated varieties. Some open-pollinated varieties may be referred to as ‘heirlooms’, or plants that have a historical record of being grown over several generations. Some gardeners may debate the difference in taste between hybrids and open-pollinated varieties, but typically this comes down to personal preference. Both will carry tomato flavor and offer similar nutritional value. As our tomatoes continue to ripen, we plan to schedule a taste test to determine how these varieties rank among our Master Gardeners.

Observations from Plants at the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Pamlico County Office

Currently, the ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomatoes have produced large vines with a heavy fruit set, carrying some of the largest fruit. This variety is also coloring earlier than other varieties, but has the greatest inconsistency in size, shape, and cracking (splitting of tomato skin). The ‘Primo Red’ variety has exhibited the weakest plant growth among all varieties, but is producing a fruit load just as vigorous and large as the ‘Cherokee Purple’. The ‘Rutgers 39’ variety is producing nice compact, bushy plants, with fruit loads like that of ‘Cherokee Purple’ and ‘Primo Red’, but with the smallest fruits. The ‘Amelia’ and ‘Mountain Majesty’ varieties have produced tall plants with a similar size and fruit shape; however, these varieties are still developing so it is difficult to compare current fruit size with other varieties. The final two varieties, ‘Celebrity’ and ‘Betterboy’, have produced vigorous vines with fruit size slightly less than that of ‘Cherokee Purple’ or ‘Primo Red’. ‘Celebrity’ tomatoes are producing a fruit load like that of ‘Cherokee Purple’ but the ‘Betterboy’ plants have the fewest tomatoes of all varieties.

Overall, plants at the Extension office have exhibited no disease issues and have only been treated once to control hornworms. With excessive rains occurring over the past couple of months, routine applications of calcium nitrate (15-0-0 & 19% Ca) have been applied about every two weeks to keep plants green and growing. Consistent watering is key to producing large and abundant tomatoes, and so far, these plants have not lacked sufficient moisture. This combination of consistent moisture and plentiful calcium have prevented any occurrence of blossom-end rot.

The warm temperatures we have experienced the past couple of weeks will cause fruit to develop early, which may lead to decreased fruit size. We will continue to evaluate these varieties as the fruit develops and report those observations.

If you would like to learn more about growing tomatoes or would like to make your own observations of our plants, please contact Daniel Simpson at 252-745-4121 or Happy gardening!