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Heirloom vs. Hybrid Tomatoes on Plastic Mulch

The Tomato Magazine
April 2006

The heirloom tomato market has taken off, according to William H. Tietjen of the Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension, Warren County, N.J., but not without its challenges.

One is the lack of any disease resistance, the researcher told those attending the Empire State Fruit & Vegetable Expo Tomato, Pepper and Eggplant Session Feb. 15 in Syracuse, N.Y. Fungicides must be applies almost weekly.

Due to the fact that about 50 percent of the seed purchased fails to germinate, extra seed must be purchased in order to come up with a productive stand, he said. That, in itself, is costly.

Growers also must cope with plenty of heirloom quality problems, including cracks that open the fruit up to disease organisms and uneven surfaces that frequently are less than eye-appealing.

Field trials were conducted at the Rutgers Snyder Research and Extension Farm, Pittstown, N.J., in 2003 and 2004, he told the group. Purpose was to compare the yield of heirloom and hybrid tomato cultivars. The evaluation was funded in part by a NJAES Program Enhancement Grant.

The hybrid commercial cultivars used were Florida 47, Florida 91, Floralina and Sunbrite, Tietjen explained. Heirloom tomatoes were Rutgers, Mortgage Lifter, Brandywine and Box Carl Willie.

Seeds were sown in early April in 200 cell trays containing peat vermiculite media, he explained. The tomatoes were later transplanted in mid-May into 48 cell trays. The plants were planted in the field with a water wheel transplanter on June 12, 2003, and June 16, 2004.

The 2003 plot received 50 lbs/acre of nitrogen preplant as well as 100 lbs/acre of phosphorus; 100 lbs/acre of potassium also were disked into the soil, Tietjen said. In 2004, the plot received preplant 50 lbs/acre of nitrogen and phosphorus and 283 lbs of potassium disked into the soil. Soil pH was within the recommended range.

Beds on 6-foot centers were formed, and black mulch with a drip irrigation tube was laid, the researcher explained. The tomatoes were planted in single rows spaced 18 inches apart. Starter solution (10-52-10) at 1 lb/100 gallons of water was added to the transplant water. The varieties were arranged in a randomized block design with four replications.
No herbicides were applied preplant because of excessively wet soil in 2003. Sencor DF at 0.33 lbs/acre was applied between the plastic beds after transplanting, Tietjen said. In 2004, Devrinol 50DF (41 lbs/acre) was applied preplant followed by Sencor DF between the rows. Gramoxone MAX 35SC was used to spot treat weeds.

Insects and diseases were controlled on a seven- to 10-day schedule using the New Jersey commercial recommendations for tomatoes, the researcher said. Hybrid tomato cultivars were supported by 4-foot stakes, and 8-foot stakes were used for the heirloom tomatoes. On July 8, 2003, two to three suckers were hand removed from all of the tomato plants. The tomatoes were trellised through the season as growth progressed. Suckers were not removed in 2004.

Harvesting and Evaluation
The tomatoes were hand harvested on Aug. 22 and 29 and Sept. 5, 11, 17 and 24, 2003, and on Sept. 2, 14 and 27, and Oct. 12, 2004, Tietjen said. The fruit was evaluated and weighted for total production and marketable yield. Major defects were identified and recorded.

Early production data (Aug. 22 and 29, 2003) from the trial is summarized in Table 1, the researcher said, adding a note of explanation that the “boxes/ac” is based on 25 lb boxes.

“Excessive rainfall, cool temperatures and cloudy days held back ripening of the fruit,” Tietjen said. “In September, rain check became a problem, especially on plants with poor leaf cover. Catfacing and zippering were common in the early harvest on all cultivars. Evaluation of marketable fruit was difficult, since consumers of heirloom tomatoes are much more tolerant of defects.”

Mortgage Lifter produced the most marketable fruit in the first harvest, he noted. However, with heavy rainfall, Mortgage Lifter developed moderate cracking.
Total production data from 2003 in summarized in Table 2.

“Brandywine was the least productive of the heirloom tomatoes and had the lowest amount of marketable fruit,” the researcher said. “The fruit cracked severely from the frequent rains, and fruit quality decreased rapidly as the season progressed. The size of Box Car Willie fruit was very variable. Rutgers produced fruit of very good quality, but fruit size was very variable.”

Looking at the commercial hybrid tomatoes, Tietjen said all produced well except Sunbrite. Catfacing and zippering were a major cause of cullage in the early harvests. Rain check and radial cracking were severe on Sunbrite, which lacked good leaf cover.

“Based on this trial, Mortgage Lifter was the most productive of the heirlooms,” he noted. “Florida 47, Florida 91 and Floralina all produced well in 2003.”
Table 3 summarizes the data from the early harvest (Sept. 2 and 14, 2004).

Mortgage Lifter again produced the most marketable fruit in 2004 followed by Sunbrite and Rutgers.

Total production for 2004 is summarized in Table 4. Florida 91 produced the most marketable fruit again in 2004, Tietjen said. Brandywine was the least productive heirloom in both years.

General Comments
“Rutgers produced blemish-free fruit of variable size (most medium or smaller). Box Car Willie also was very variable in size,” Tietjen told the group. “In addition, Rutgers and Box Car Willie frequently retained stems that caused punctures on other fruit during harvest. In 2004, Golden Girl VFNTA Hybrid was utilized as a guard plant and the source of bacterial spot infections.

In his recommendations for heirloom tomatoes for New Jersey growers, Tietjen suggested the following:

Heirloom (large fruit): Cherokee Purple (severe cracking when ripe-deleted from 2006 Recs), Mortgage Lifter, Hawaiian Pineapple and Prudents Purple.

Heirloom (medium fruit): Eva Purple Ball, Arkansas Traveler, Box Car Willie, Lemon Boy (a hybrid variety), Costoluto Genovese, Brandywine Red and Green Zebra (small size, cracks easily on sides when ripe-deleted from 2006 Recs).

Heirloom (small fruit): Snow White and Yellow Pear.

Editor’s Note: William H. Tietjen’s presentation, reported here, is based on a joint study with P.J. Nitzsche and W.L. Kline, also with the Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension. Tietjen covers Warren County; Nitzsche, Morris County, and Kline, Cumberland County. For more information, check
www.rcre.rutgers.edu/tomato or contact Tietjen at (908) 475-6505, Tietjen@rcre.rutgers.edu. Photos are courtesy of Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension.

© 2006 Columbia Publishing

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