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Tomato Trials 2011

That mean old late blight strikes every year in my community garden and when I am foolish enough to think I can grow tomatoes at City College, so I am still on the lookout for a late blight resistant variety or two. Inland gardeners may escape this nasty disease, but it is thriving in cooler gardens near the coast.

Two years ago, in a trial reported in this blog, I grew several varieties that "someone" on the web said resisted late blight where they garden. Not a very scientific choice, but for several years, I tried the ones that wholesale seed companies and universities have been developing for resistance and none of those worked, so I was ready to try anything.

As a review, tomato late blight, which is the same as potato late blight, and which caused the Irish potato famine, is not soil borne, but carried by aerial spores from infected plants. It appears rather late (as in late blight) in the season. There are dark brown lesions on stems and leaves, followed by general collapse of the plants.Here are a couple of photos of plants with symptoms:

Tomatoes blight 09 022 copy

The fruit may start to show the greasy brown coloration near the stem while it is stil green, or after it ripens. This may spread to whole fruits. In any case, fruit on infected plants ripens poorly and isn't sweet.
Tomatoes Juliet-blight 09 023 copy 2

The one variety that has been on the market for several years is 'Legend'. In my trials, it was the first to die. Here is the miserable dead plant of 'Legend' in 2009:

Tomatoes 09 004 copy

Of the others I tried in 2009, my best plants were 'Juliet', which now is sold with a notation that it has some resistance to "Blight." (Not very informative, since there is also an early blight, a disease much more common in the Eastern US, but an entirely different disease.) Here is 'Juliet' in 2009:

Tomatoes Juliet-hand 09 012 copy

Although 'Juliet' had a touch of late blight, it produced a huge crop of these plum-type fruits--bigger than a cherry tomato, but smaller than a standard paste tomato. They were, however, perfect for the Broiled Tomatoes with Herbs and Cheese recipe I printed in Golden Gate Gardening.

In the past couple of years, late blight has been appearing on the East Coast as well as in the West. A few more supposedly resistant varieties have appeared, and I am trying 4 new ones:

Plum Regal F1 (Salsa/Sauce/Drying) 68 days

Golden Sweet F1 (Yellow Grape) 60 days

Mountain Magic F1 (Red, tall vine) 70 days

Defiant PHR F1 (Red, short vine) 70 days

So, I got them all from Johnny's Seeds, who may or may not have seeds of them left this year. They are all hybrids, and all relatively early. (The number of days doesn't count the 6 weeks or so to grow transplants, but anything under 75 is reasonably early.) The one I am most hopeful for is 'Defiant', since it has a formal "PHR" after the name, stands for "Phytopthora Resistant". (Phytopthora is the scientific genus name of the late blight fungus.) 'Defiant' is also said to resist 2 strains of the disease, so maybe it resists the strain we have while others didn't?

The plants will be potted up this week, planted out in May in one or possibly several San Francisco test sites. Stay tuned!

 

Comments

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Pam Peirce

I'm growing the 4 best varieties from last year's trial: Juliet, Mountain Magic, Golden Sweet, and Defiant. So far so good with those. No blight and I am starting to harvest ripe fruit. However, someone gave me an heirloom purple tomato variety and it is pretty well dead of late blight now, with sad little green fruits but no leaves to make sugar so they can ripen. Wish I could grow some of the heirlooms I used to grow!

shooting flash games

The Juliets! OMG they are amazing. Thank you for blogging about them or I probably would not have given them a try. I have a garden in the inner Mission, and while my heirlooms and Early Girls languished this summer, the Juliet seedling grew so big that it took over most of the plot, shading out several small herb plants, bending its metal cage, and breaking several bamboo support poles in the process despite regular pruning. We nicknamed it the Kraken. It is producing about a pint of plum sized tomatoes a day right now. Even when fruit drops early, I have found that it ripens quite nicely in a day or two. I will definitely be planting Juliets again.
+1

Heather

The Juliets! OMG they are amazing. Thank you for blogging about them or I probably would not have given them a try. I have a garden in the inner Mission, and while my heirlooms and Early Girls languished this summer, the Juliet seedling grew so big that it took over most of the plot, shading out several small herb plants, bending it's metal cage, and breaking several bamboo support poles in the process despite regular pruning. We nicknamed it the Kraken. It is producing about a pint of plum sized tomatoes a day right now. Even when fruit drops early, I have found that it ripens quite nicely in a day or two. I will definitely be planting Juliets again.

Jeff Titon

I trialed the Defiant PHR F1 this year in East Penobscot Bay, the mid-coast of Maine, where summers are long but not hot. It has been a normal growing season except 14 days without rain in July, and less rain in September than normal, thus far. Seeds were from Johnny's Selected Seeds, whose main farm is about 2 hours away from my location by car. They resisted late blight--are still resisting it as of today--and have an old-fashioned tomato taste, with a bit of bite and high flavor, even better than the usually fine tasting Cosmonaut Volkov. Size is medium, shape quite round. The only thing I don't like about them is their tough skins, but that is a texture issue, not a growth or taste issue. I recommend them for taste and blight resistance. They are also quite productive, particularly for determinate plants. They could be a good commercial variety, also.

Pam Peirce

Thanks for the info Susan. I will have results to post from my 2011 trials in a few weeks. The results are mixed.

Susan Kegley

Hi Pam,

Check out your 2009 post for a recent comment from me with info on lots of varieties and their demise (or not) from late blight. It's been a rough summer for tomatoes---worse, even than last year.

Susan

Kimberly McKinnis

The weather in the Bay Area has been rubbish for gardeners this year. My tomatoes are quite unhappy... in fact, I found your blog by Googling 2011 Northern California tomato wilt. I insisted on growing heirlooms that weren't bred for resistance. Not going so well :(

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