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Gardening: Overgrown Shrub Image

Two prime attributes of heirloom tomatoes are they just can't be beat for their outstanding flavor and delightful juiciness. If you’re interested in sampling some homegrown heirloom tomatoes, be sure to attend the “Tomato Taste Testing” program on June 2, 2007.

Photo Credit: Dr. Herman Auer


By Dr. William M. Johnson, Galveston County Extension Agent - Horticulture

May 31, 2007

Tomato Taste Testing

DATE: Saturday, June 2, 2007

TIME: 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon

PLACE: Galveston County Extension Office, 5115 Highway 3, Dickinson

EVENTS: Gardeners are invited to view a diverse collection of locally-grown heirloom and hybrid tomatoes at any time during the above-stated hours.

Open to the general public; pre-registration not needed.

MORE INFO: You will be able to sample any or all of the tomatoes available. We also invite you to provide us with your feedback through a brief taste evaluation form.

Availability of varieties will be dependent upon day-of-harvest conditions.

The tomatoes are grown by Master Gardener Terry Cuclis and other Texas Master Gardeners.

They will be available during the program to answer gardeners' questions on growing tomatoes.

Gardening for Butterflies & Hummingbirds

DATE: Saturday, June 9, 2007

TIME: 9:00 to 11:30 a.m.

PLACE: Galveston County Extension Office, 5115 Highway 3, Dickinson

EVENTS: Educational seminar presented by Master Gardener Deborah Repasz will cover how to create a garden for hummingbirds and butterflies, including plant selection and other items needed in the habitat.

No fee, but pre-registration is required as seating is limited (281-534-3413, ext. 1-2 or

Texans have been pursuing the perfect tomato for a long time. The race for the perfect tomato starts with each spring season. Across the state, tomatoes are grown in vegetable beds, in flower beds, on patios and in hanging baskets. Neighbors and friends from all across the state are vying for the earliest, the largest, the tastiest, and/or the reddest tomato on the block.

The adventuresome gardener has a rather remarkably wide range of tomato sizes, shapes, tastes, and even colors to select. You can pick from marble-sized "pluck-and-pop-in-the-mouth" tomatoes to behemoths from which one slice will more than cover even a Texas-sized burger.

Tomato enthusiasts understand that it's worth a little time and effort to understand some basic "tomato lingo" used in describing tomato varieties. The following concepts should be of benefit to anyone who desires to carry on a meaningful conversation with even the best of tomato growers.

DWARF TOMATOES: Although any tomato can be container-grown provided the container is of adequate size for the type of tomato, dwarf tomatoes are especially suited for growing in small containers or where garden space is very limited. ‘Patio’ is a dwarf tomato that is widely available in area garden centers. ‘Pixie’ is another dwarf-type tomato.

DETERMINATE OR BUSH-TYPE TOMATOES: These are varieties of tomatoes which will usually grow to no more than three to five feet in height and are generally not suitable for staking. However, they do extremely well in cages. A determinate tomato's key virtue is its ability to produce a substantial number of fruits which mature in a relatively short period of time. ‘Carnival’ and ‘Celebrity’ are examples of determinate type tomatoes.

INDETERMINATE OR STAKING TOMATOES: These are taller growing varieties which need support for maximum development and production. Generally speaking, indeterminate varieties have fewer ripening fruit at any one time than do determinate varieties, but they produce over a longer period of time. However, over the season, they are generally heavy producers of fruit. Popular varieties include ‘Better Boy’ and ‘Terrific’.

MATURITY RATING: Tomato varieties are classified as early, medium, or late maturing. ‘Early Girl’ and ‘First Lady’ produce fruit about 60 days after transplanting while ‘Beefsteak’ requires an average of 90 days to yield its first fruit. Many gardeners include an early maturing variety in their planting plan to get in some early practice on eating home-grown, vine-ripened tomatoes. However, they rely on medium-maturing varieties to provide the mainstay of their harvest.

COLOR: Believe it or not, tomatoes come in colors other than red. Yellow varieties (‘Jubilee’ and ‘Yellow Pear’) and pink (‘Ponderosa Pink’) varieties are popular among many gardeners. Color can also be influenced by temperature. Normally red tomato varieties often produce orange-colored fruit when they ripen under high temperature conditions.

FRUIT SIZE: Fruit size vary from cherry-sized (such as ‘Sweet 100'—and you'll get hundreds of them), plum-sized (‘Red Cherry’), standard-sized 7-16 oz. varieties (the most common type) to extra-large or beefsteak varieties. Be aware that those extra-large type varieties also require an extra-long time to produce fruits. They are grown more as a novelty crop and generally should not be relied upon as the primary source of fruit.

OTHER FRUIT CHARACTERISTICS: Additional tomato types include low acid content, canning, crack resistant, and even so-called winter keeper types.

HEIRLOOM TOMATOES: The definition of “heirloom” to describe plants is not precise and oftentimes subject to debate. Regardless of a person's specific interpretation, most authorities agree that heirlooms, by definition, must be open-pollinated, i.e., seed can be saved and the offspring are productive.

Two prime attributes of heirloom tomatoes are they just can't be beat for their outstanding flavor and delightful juiciness. Tomatoes like ‘Green Grape’, ‘Green Zebra’, ‘Brandywine’ and ‘German Johnson’ are some of the many tomato varieties that do well in this area. If you’re interested in sampling some homegrown heirloom tomatoes, see the inset for details on our “Tomato Taste Testing” program.

Dr. Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County Extension Office of Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A&M University. Visit his web site at

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