2005 Heirloom Tomato Study
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This article was published in 2017 and is maintained for historical reference.
Mountain Research Station, Waynesville, NC
Project Leaders: Dr. Randy Gardner and Dr. Jeanine Davis
Department of Horticultural Science, NC State University
There is a strong market for heirloom tomatoes. Consumers say they taste better and have thinner skins than “regular tomatoes”. There is a nostalgic attraction for the “ole timey’ varieties that Grandma used to grow. Heirloom varieties also come in many interesting colors and shapes and have fun names that just make them different from the standard tomato. The market for ORGANIC heirloom tomatoes is particularly strong.
This should be an excellent opportunity for local growers, except that heirloom tomatoes have several production problems. Most heirloom tomatoes have little or no disease resistance. This makes organic production, in particular, very difficult. In a wet season, like we are having this year, heirloom varieties fall victim to blight before they get the chance to yield much fruit. Heirloom varieties have a tendency to crack and are very rough in appearance, which makes them difficult to pack and sell commercially. Tomato breeder, Dr. Randy Gardner, has developed several new disease resistant experimental hybrids with heirloom qualities. Hopefully, these new hybrids will have the flavor of heirlooms but with the desired qualities of standard commercial tomatoes, e.g., disease resistance, uniform size, and good shipping characteristics.
To determine if the new heirloom-type hybrids 1) have consumer acceptance as having the flavor of heirloom tomatoes and 2) can be successfully grown in organic and conventional production systems.
Seven varieties of tomatoes are being grown in two plots. In one plot the tomatoes are being grown using conventional practices as recommended by the N.C. Cooperative Extensive Service, including synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, and insecticides. In the other plot, tomatoes are being grown using organic practices as approved by the National Organic Program, including organic soil amendments and organic disease control. In both plots, the tomatoes are grown on raised beds with black plastic and drip-irrigation and high trellises. The varieties grown are German Johnson, Mr. Stripey, Cherokee Purple, NC 0455, NC 0571, NC 0576, and NC 05114. Transplants were set on June 2, 10 plants per plot, and pruned to a single stem.
|Organic Trial||TRT||# of 25 lb Boxes/Acre||Ounces /Fruit||Comments|
|German Johnson||2||1479||9.9||yellow shoulder, radial crack, some kidney shape, some burst, rough|
|Cherokee Purple||3||1420||8.0||severe cracking, yellow shoulder, rough, kidney shape, some burst|
|NC 0455||4||989||6.4||some cracking, some yellow shoulder, some BER, good shape|
|NC 0571||5||945||6.6||some cracking, some yellow shoulder, good shape, some BER|
|NC 0576||6||1085||7.0||some BER, some cracking, good shape, few zippers|
|NC 05114||7||833||1.8||good shape, no cracking|
|Conventional Trial||TRT||# of 25 lb Boxes/Acre||Ounces /Fruit||Comments|
|Mr. Stripey||1||873||14.3||deep radial cracking, rough, burst, some BER, some ribbing|
|German Johnson||2||1152||9.2||some yellow shoulder, radial crack, ribbed, rough, some kidney shape|
|Cherokee Purple||3||1244||7.6||severe crack, green shoulders, burst, rough, kidney shape|
|NC 0455||4||811||6.0||slight cracking, slight BER, good shape, good color|
|NC 0571||5||797||6.6||slight cracking, slight BER, good shape|
|NC 0576||6||926||6.5||slight cracking, slight BER, good shape|
|NC 05114||7||606||1.5||good shape, no cracking|
|Means for 4, 6-plant replicates for each trial harvest at 4 weekly harvests (8/2-8/22/05).|
|Varieties #4-#7 are early blight and late blight resistant experimental hybrids.|
Taste Test Results (56 people):
|Overall Rating||Percentage (%)|
Percentage that indicated this was their favorite:
This study is a project of the N.C. Specialty Crops Program, a cooperative venture between the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at NC State University and the Marketing Division at the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. This project is funded in part by a grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation. We wish to thank the staff at the Mountain Research Station for all their support without which, this would not be possible. Technical support has been provided by Candice Anderson, Beth Dixon, David Grimsley, Vicky Heatherly, Agatha Kaplan, Chris Leek, and Erica Piela. Marketing assistance is provided by Stephanie Wise, NCDA&CS.
Funding for this project provided by: Golden Leaf Foundation
Authored by Jeanine Davis, NC Alternative Crops & Organics Program, Department of Horticultural Science, NC State University. Reviewed on 7/17/2022.