Theres new activity in tomato breeding that spells benefits for todays and tomorrows gardeners. Some folks are breeding blue tomatoes, said to be more healthful, and some are breeding smaller, more manageable tomato plants that bear full-sized fruit, but thrive in five-gallon containers.
They are calling these smaller tomato varieties dwarf tomatoes. An ancestor may often be a tree tomato, also called tomato De Laye, that appeared in a garden at Chateau De Laye, France in 1862. The original tree tomato mutation stood no more than 18 inches tall with short branches and very short nodes. Tomato plants with short nodes (spaces between branches or leaf stalks) are usually considered desirable for greenhouse culture too.
One of the main breeders is Craig Le Houllier, a chemist by education and trade, and one of the top hobby experts on tomatoes in this country. He and Carolyn Male, a microbiologist and also a hobby tomato expert, used to publish a tomato newsletter called Off the Vine. They introduced many new varieties of tomato to American gardeners.
Le Houllier started breeding these new dwarf varieties in 2005, fast-tracking the breeding process by getting two growing seasons each year. He grew them in North Carolina for a season, saved seeds and sent them to Patrina Nuske-Small, an avid tomato grower in Australia. She grew plants from those seeds, saved seeds and sent them back.
It was a small group of volunteers who joined Le Houlliers and Nuske-Smalls project in 2006, and now there are more than 200 growers spread around the world, from New Zealand to Germany, working on stabilizing these tomato varieties.
Why go to all of this work when one could just grow determinate tomatoes?
Because these dwarf tomatoes have the better flavor of the indeterminate tomatoes, and bear fruit until frost. Many determinate varieties produce their fruit all at once, then cease fruiting. Thats an advantage for canning, but not for a family that desires fresh home-grown tomatoes through the summer. Many folks also prefer the taste of indeterminate varieties of tomatoes to those from determinate vines.
Dwarf tomato plants top out at four feet, and dont bear as heavily as indeterminate tomato plants, but they can be planted closer together or in pots. This is a huge advantage to apartment or condominium dwellers, and also to folks anticipating a change in residence.
This group of growers currently has 17 varieties stabilized, so they bear fruit as described. Seeds are available from Tomato Growers Supply Co., Victory Seeds and Sand Hill Preservation Center. Each company carries different varieties.
While canning tomatoes this fall I became annoyed at some pipes of russeting from catfaced blossom end to stem end of some tomatoes. The pipes needed to be removed for human consumption.
I know catfacing often occurs on open-pollinated tomatoes, the type I usually grow, when fruit sets in cool weather. I did not know that oval or oblong tomatoes are more prone to catfacing than round fruits, until Le Houllier told me.
Le Houllier also advised watching for and removing bits of blossom from newly formed fruits, for they may become the malformations in the fruit when it ripens.
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