Last year’s tomato project, in which we compared the yields of grafted heirloom Pink Berkley Tie-Dyes to ungrafted Pink Berkeley Tie-Dyes, got us wondering if we could find hybrids that pleased our palates just as much as our favorite heirlooms. Our curiosity was further piqued by the research going on at Klee Lab at the University of Florida, and the opportunity to participate in his trials as “citizen scientists.”
Since 1995, Dr. Klee has been trying to create the “perfect” tomato, one that: won’t bruise during shipping, resists many of the major diseases, is highly productive, and actually tastes good. According to Dr. Klee, “when we bite into a tomato, what our brains register as a “tomato” is actually a complex interaction between sugars, acids, and multiple volatile compounds.” He has reduced the essence of tomato to only 15 – 20 compounds that impact our perception of the fruit.
His first tomato, Garden Gem, was a cross between Maglia Rosa, rated by consumers as the best tasting tomato, and a “tasteless” workhorse, Fla. 8059. In variety trials among “a large consumer test panel run by the University of Florida Food Science and Human Nutrition department,” only two points separated Garden Gem from Maglia Rosa. In eighth place, Better Boy, the tomato most planted by home gardeners, ranked more than 12 points below Maglia Rosa.
As part of Dr. Klee’s citizen science project, we will compare performance, yields and taste among three of his hybrids: “R” Hybrid, “B” Hybrid, and an improved “Garden Gem”and against the hybrid classic, Better Boy. Expanding the project for ourselves we will also compare these four tomatoes with a variety of heirlooms which ranked high in our own taste tests, along with some new varieties we have learned about including three new offerings from Craig LeHoullier. We’re excited to see how the hybrids and heirlooms compare in terms of both performance and flavor.
Here’s what we’re growing:
Better Boy, Determinate Hybrid
Black Cherry, Indeterminate Heirloom
Black Krim, Intermediate Heirloom
Blazey F2, Craig Le Houlllier (Honor Bright x Blazing Beauty)
Chef’s Choice Black, Indeterminate Beefsteak Hybrid
Cherokee Purple, Indeterminate Heirloom
Lemon Boy, Indeterminate Hybrid
Pamela’s Sundrop, Craig Le Houllier (small yellow)
Pink Berkeley Tie Dye, Indeterminate Heirloom
R Hybrid, Klee Lab U of Florida, Hybrid
Shin Chang Gong, Rootstock
Sun Sugar, Indeterminate Hybrid
Suzy F2, Craig Le Houllier (Sweet Sue x Peach Blow Sutton)
Once again, we’ll spend Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday mornings at Briggs, grooming, picking, counting, and weighing our way to tomato Nirvana. Except for those tomatoes in our end-of-season taste test, the produce will be donated.
Stay tuned for updates.