2021 Tomato Project

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.

The immediately identifiable shape of a Garden Gem.

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.

Learn With Us, July 2021

Durham Garden Forum: July 20, 7-8:30 PM via Zoom

Garden Transformations: From Blah to AhhMichelle Wallace Regional Agriculture and Natural Resource Extension Educator – Northwest Ohio, Central State University – Extension
A garden is always personal. Soil, weather, sun, pests, available plants, restrictions, all impact the choices and compromises you make, particularly when you are new to a region. But, the results will amaze you. This is about Michelle’s journey and the evolution of her landscape.
Via Zoom. For Registration Information, contact durhamgardenforum@gmail.com

The Bull City Gardener Learning Series has virtual and in-person classes. More information can be found HERE

Look for Gardening and Grub talks online on Wednesdays from 1-1:30 PM. Click HERE for the July 7 edition.

Guilford County Gardening Virtual Classes

Chatham County is also offering Virtual Classes

JC Raulston Arboretum offers additional online events.

Virtual and in-person classes are being held at the NC Botanical Garden

Triangle Gardener Magazine compiles a list of courses from many of the above sources and others.

Safely Gardening With Children

By Jean Findlay, EMGV

It is so rewarding to see children get excited about gardening. They get outdoors with fresh air and exercise, away from screens, learn about plants and soil, and maybe improve their diet when they can eat and prepare what they have grown. And gardening can be done anywhere, and from a young age. This little one started to help garden at age two on a rooftop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia!

While you are planning quiet summer afternoons in the back yard, your children may be plotting some mischief! A little preparation will help prevent a trip to the emergency room on an otherwise peaceful afternoon. So here are a few suggestions to keep everyone safe and happy.

Do a tour of your back yard to check for hidden dangers. Check for poisonous plants and remove them if possible. A plant ID app can identify the name, and the printable publications below (references 5 and 6) list plants poisonous to humans and animals respectively.

Have a first aid kit handy, as well as the phone number for poison control:


Make sure chemicals and petroleum products are safely stored. Pesticides and other chemicals can be absorbed through the skin, so they should never be handled by children. Ingestion of petroleum products can cause severe pneumonia. Make sure you watch chemicals while you are using them, until safely stored again.

Keep young children off a newly treated lawn for 48 hours.

If there are water features, rain barrels, paddling pools or drainage ditches, be sure there will be adequate supervision of toddlers. Toddlers have been known to do headstands in the toilet bowl, and if exploring a water feature combines with a fall, the result can be disastrous. Keep hoses coiled to prevent tripping.

Time for the pre-gardening lecture!

Before heading out to the garden to plant those prized heirlooms you’ve grown from seed, go over the rules. Garden tools are not toys or weapons, boys and girls! They should always be put on the ground with sharp points down. If tools are not scaled to size, make sure each little gardener is aware that there is a long handle behind them that can hit another child if too close.

They should wear sturdy shoes, and when appropriate, hat, sunscreen, eye protection, and insect repellant. Have plenty of water available to drink in hot weather.

Instruct them to only eat fruit or vegetables under adult supervision. Not all blue berries are blueberries; Poke berries for instance, are very toxic to young children. And Swiss chard looks quite like rhubarb whose leaves contain too high levels of oxalic acid for children to tolerate. For the vegetables and fruits you do harvest together, it is a great time to maybe let them taste some new and healthy food, and learn how to cook them with you.

Plants, pests, and power tools:

Some general recommendations from AAP and CDC:

  • Sunscreen: SPF 15 or more, apply 30 minutes before exposure and every 2 hours of exposure, and after swimming.
  • Insect repellent: 2 months and older : 10% DEET for up to 2 Hours exposure, 30% for up to 5 hours. Wash it off when return indoors.
  • Light colored clothing, avoid perfumed products, and cover up as much as practical.
  • Check for ticks each day. If found, remove carefully and record the date.
  • Combination sunscreen-DEET products risk extra exposure to DEET since it should be applied more frequently.
  • Power tools: only over 14 years of age, and if able to handle the equipment.
  • Mowers: This is my pet peeve! No matter how cute they look, NEVER let a child ride on a tractor or ride-on mower. They can fall off, sustain a head injury, be run over, or lose part of an arm or leg. It happens more often than people realize.
  • Age 14 + to operate a walk-behind mower, and 16+ for ride on mower.
  • Be sure to turn off the mower before removing grass from the blades (yes, I know someone who didn’t and got more than his nails trimmed)

Additional Information and References:

  1. Gardening Safety for Kids, Part 1: Getting Ready for the Garden (MSU Extension)
  2. Gardening Safety for Kids, Part 2: Using Tools and Preventing Injury (MSU Extension)
  3. Water Safety and Young Children (American Academy of Pediatrics)
  4. Choosing an Insect Repellant for Your Child (American Academy of Pediatrics)
  5. Poisonous Plant Resources (NC State Extension)
  6. Plants Poisonous to Livestock and Pets in North Carolina (NC State Extension)
  7. Guide to Accidental Plant Poisoning (Carolinas Poison Center)
  8. Sun Safety (CDC)

June: To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

RAIN!!!  Honest to goodness real water-out-of-the-sky RAIN!  I’m pretty sure I heard a collective sigh from all the plants that I have only watered sparingly.  Hopefully the forecasted above average chance of rain for the first half of June actually comes to fruition.  Hard to believe that we nearly drowned in February.

The Accidental Cottage Garden is quite different this year.  There is a plethora of lance leaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), a few galardia (Galardia pulchella) and one poppy (Papaver orientale).  The prairie coneflower (Rudbeckia hirta) and the Asiatic lilies (Lilium x ‘Corsica’ & and an unnamed orange one) are quite pleased with their new blanket of mulch.  The butterfly weed (Asclepeis tuberosa) has taken the spotlight from the dianthus (Dianthus ‘Sweetie Pie’). The as yet unidentified spreading garden chrysanthemum is trying to take over the floor of the garden under the English daisies (Bellis perennis).  And that’s the news from the Accidental Cottage Garden.


If you have heretofore procrastinated on this item it is TIME to fertilize warm season grasses (i.e. Bermuda, Zoysia, St. Augustine).  It is also the best (and really only) time to fertilize Centipede.  The general recommendation is for ½ lb. 15-0-14 or equivalent per 1000 sq ft.  Should you desire to be truly accurate- GET a FREE SOIL TEST.  Kits are available by calling the Extension office 919 560-0525, or by picking one up from the blue cabinet on the north side of the office (721 Foster St).

It would be difficult to core aerate our clayey soils too much, so a day or two after a rain (like any day this spring) or a good irrigation would be an ideal time do just that.

When mowing warm season grasses a good rule of thumb is to remove 1/3 of the new growth per mowing.

If you have been drooling over your neighbor’s Zoysia lawn June is a good time to start your own with sod or plugs.


After getting your FREE SOIL TEST in order to avoid over fertilizing now is the time to feed your dogwoods following the recommendations.

Vegetable gardens would like a side dressing of fertilizer about now to maximize production.


Again, for the procrastinators out there, if you want a crop this year better get these plants (too late for seeds) in the ground ASAP:  tomatoes, peppers, black-eyed peas, lima beans, green & wax beans, pumpkins, sweet potatoes.

Start (from seed) Brussel sprouts & collards to set out in mid-July.


Coniferous evergreens (They produce seeds in cones.) like pines, cedars, junipers, arborvitaes, etc. may be pruned now.

Hedges can be pruned now but be advised do not remove more than a third of the total plant top (The green part.)

Keep pinching your garden mums until mid-July.

Hydrangea macrophylla (the ones with the BIG leaves) can be pruned when the flowers fade.

Azaleas may be pruned until July 4. (An “old wives tale” that works.)

Dieback in ericaceous plants (acid loving) such as azalea, rhododendron, Pieris, etc. can be pruned out now.  Remember to cut below the damage and to sterilize the pruner with 10% bleach between cuts.


Patrol your shrubs for the following likely suspects: lace bugs, leaf miners, spider mites, aphids and bag worms.  Use appropriate measures to curtail their destructive tendencies.  If the bag worms have already bagged themselves you will have to hand pick them and destroy them in any manner you see fittin’.

June is also the beginning of the invasion better known as Japanese beetles.  There is a myriad of treatment options out there.

Keep an eye out for tomato early blight.  Watch for dark spots on the leaves and treat with an appropriate fungicide.  There are some good organics out there.

June is a good month to eradicate poison ivy, kudzu and honeysuckle.  Get while they are rapidly growing with an appropriate herbicide.

As with shrubs it is time to be on guard in the garden.  Several (many?) insects are looking for gourmet gardens to satisfy their gastronomic inclinations.  Look for a variety of worms on cruciferous veggies (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower), cucumber beetles on cucumbers (ironically), squash borers on other cucurbits-squash and melons, flea beetles on green beans, tomatoes & eggplant and aphids on anything green.

Continue with regular pest management programs on bunch grapes, fruit trees and roses.

Use pesticides wisely, sparingly and only when necessary.  Always read the label and follow directions.


Water lawns as necessary but try to do it early in the day to avoid evaporative loss.  Watering lawn in the evening promotes disease.  Lawns and gardens need about 1 inch of water per week either from natural sources or irrigation. 

Strawberry beds can be renovated now.

It is also a marvelous time to sit on the deck or patio with a glass of your favorite cold beverage and enjoy your garden.  You can even invite friends this year especially if everyone is vaccinated.  Break out the grille and let’s party.

See y’all at the ballpark.

Views from the Accidental Cottage Garden. Photos by Gary Crispell.

*Resources and Further Reading

All About Soil Sampling and How to Get Supplies from Durham County Cooperative Extension

Organic Lawn Care Guide

Central North Carolina Planting Calendar for Annual Fruits, Vegetables, and Herbs

General Pruning Tips

Learn more about insects and how to control them from the North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox (find your perfect plant or figure out what that unknown weed is!)

Learn With Us, week of May 30

Bull City Gardener Learning series: Virtual and In-person classes are being offered through July and again starting in September. For more information, click here. Registration is required.

Durham Garden Forum: Crevice Gardening – June 15, 7-8:30 Via Zoom With Karen Williams, Guilford County Extension Master Gardener volunteer – Looking for an architectural element or drought tolerance in your garden? Crevice Gardens, a unique form of rock gardening, might be your answer. Karen describes a crevice garden in the Guilford County Extension Demonstration Garden, designed and implemented by volunteers. Learn to plan, build, plant, and enjoy a crevice garden in your own space. Via Zoom. For Registration Information, contact: durhamgardenforum@gmail.com

Gardening and Grub – A Weekly Chat About All Things Food: Wednesdays from 1-1:30 – Every week, our own Cheralyn Berry, NC Cooperative Extension Family & Consumer Science Agent, will answer YOUR questions about gardening, cooking, canning, and whatever food related topics you can come up with! Join us on Zoom at https://go.ncsu.edu/allthingsfood or on Facebook live at https://www.facebook.com/DurhamExtension/

Sarah P. Duke Gardens will enter Phase 2 of reopening on June 1. Please see the Phase 2 link for more information. Online educational programming is also available. At the time this post was compiled, there were a few June classes listed in the 2021 Spring schedule. Summer schedule should be posted soon.

Triangle Gardener publishes a list of classes – scroll down for June.

Chatham County Extension has a series of interesting classes – check the schedule and sign up here.

Happy learning!