Friday, May 11, 2012

2012 Celebrity Challenge: Update 1

Late last year, I started looking into who owns what hybrids.  I found out that 80% of them are owned by big agribusiness companies who have been buying seed companies and the hybrids they've come up with at an alarming rate.  I'm not a big fan of big agribiz.  If I were to list all the reasons why in this post it would digress into a teal deer of epic proportions.  No, I don't think they are the antichrist, but I do think they are chasing the almighty dollar at all costs and are doing much damage in the process, so I like to avoid doing business with them whenever I can.  Many customers at work feel the same.  More and more of them are asking for heirlooms and telling me why.  I've learned a lot from them and my own research, knowledge I pass on when another customer asks.

Early Girl
A problem I'm coming up against is what to tell them when they say, "Shit! Celebrity and Early Girl were my favorites! What do I grow now?!"  Those two are the most popular tomatoes around it seems.  Many people have reported that Celebrity is incredibly productive, and my trials so far have borne that out.  Early Girl is supposed to be the same, with the added benefit of being early, something very desirable down here in our hot climate.  Both are likely owned by Monsanto now that they've bought Seminis seeds.  Bummer.

Arkansas Traveler
Growing tomatoes is a challenge for us here in Central Texas, so when someone finds that perfect tomato variety that does well here, it's hard to let it go, even when faced with going against your principles.  I can understand that.  I mean, we are talking about home grown tomatoes here.  Many people only have room for a few plants, so are torn between a sure thing they've always counted on and trying something new since doing so could mean few or no tomatoes this year.  When they look at me and ask, "Which should I grow?  Which is as productive and disease resistant as the old standbys?", I want so badly to give them good advice, but I don't know for sure and it kills me to think I might be steering them wrong.

In order to be able to answer them with at least some certainty, I've embarked on a search for the tomato that will kick Celebrity's ass.  Just like in years past, I planted many varieties this year, but this time I researched a little more and picked many of them with this challenge in mind.  And I planted a Celebrity and an Early Girl right alongside them, as well as a couple other hybrids.  Of course I won't be able to determine from just one year who is the clear winner, so I'll continue to do this challenge every year, replanting the winners and a few new contenders each year along with those hybrids. 

So far, I think I have a few good prospects.  Here are how things are shaking out so far.  I've listed each variety, then number of tomatoes as of today, whether or not and how much it's sick with the wilt going through the patch, and general comments.   

Mortgage Lifter
Celebrity ~ 20 tomatoes. Slightly sick, but otherwise good (healthy) looking. Short plant, maybe because it's a semi-determinate? Might not be able to cut it back and have it grow back for a fall flush. 
Early Girl ~ 14 tomatoes. A little sick, but otherwise good looking. Tall. Despite it's name, it's not early.  None of the fruit are even beginning to blush, yet I've already harvested ripe fruit from three or four other plants, and another handful are starting to ripen theirs. 
Champion ~ 22 tomatoes. A little sick, but otherwise good looking.  Tall.  Like the two above, this is a hybrid recommended on all the lists for our area.  It was also mentioned in The Texas Tomato Lover's Handbook as one of the author's favorites.  So far, it's not doing well for me.
Ponderosa Red
Super Fantastic ~ 4 tomatoes. 20% sick, but otherwise good looking. Tall. This is a hybrid I think we grew as a kid.  Neither super nor fantastic so far.  Maybe it'll do better in the heat?

Arkansas Traveler ~ 10 tomatoes. Medium sick, but robust.  The fruit are HUGE.  Much bigger than I was expecting.
Cour di Bue ~ 11 tomatoes. Very sickly. Looks like I'll lose it.
Creole ~ 10 fruit. Fairly sick.
Dinner Plate ~ 6 tomatoes. Sick, but robust.  Tall plant.  None of the fruit are anywhere near dinner plate sized, more like golf balls.  Maybe it was named for the plate you'll put them on and not their size?
German Johnson ~ Normally, if the fruit weren't bigger than a pea, I didn't count them.  But this one's 6 tomatoes were all about that size.  I think I might have planted it late?  It's sick, but barely so, and doing very well otherwise.
Homestead ~ 5 tomatoes. Sick, but robust.  Medium sized plant
Marglobe ~ 17 fruit. Pretty dang sickly looking.  Might lose it, too.  Short plant. Smallish fruit.
Mortgage Lifter ~ 14 tomatoes. Sick enough to have lost many bottom leaves, but the top is quite robust and healthy looking.  Fairly good sized fruit.
Oxheart ~ This one I had high hopes for since last year it produced one of my first fruits, then went on to give me many more, but this one got a slow start.  The seedling I started from seed was awful small when I set it out, but I did it anyway and I think the plant suffered for it.  It's now a fairly tall plant, but not producing much yet.
Pink Ponderosa ~ 5 tomatoes.  Sick, but tall and healthy.
Ponderosa Red ~ 14 tomatoes.  Pretty dang sickly, dammit.  It was doing SO well. 
Red Brandywine ~ The seedling I planted died.  BUMMER.  This is one was another I had high hopes for since last year it did so well for me, having more than a dozen fruit on it by early May.
Rutgers ~ 14 tomatoes.  Short and sick, but doing well.
Trucker's Favorite
Stupice ~ 33 smallish tomatoes. Very sick.  Might lose this one, too.  Tall plant.  I didn't think this one would be a contender since I thought it was a small-fruited variety, but it's so productive that I had to include it.  Fruit aren't as small as I was expecting.
Trucker's Favorite ~  6 tomatoes.  Sick, but good looking.  Tall plant.  Another one I had high hopes for.  I think this one is an old fashioned shipping/commercial variety, so I thought maybe it might hold it's own.  So far it's not, but I may still try it again next year.

And an honorable mention goes to the Brandywine Black.  That thing is a monster!  It has over thirty fruit on it and gave me the first ripe tomato of the year.  Good flavor, at least as good as my other favorites.  I'll have to do a blind taste test later in the year when more of the blacks are ripening at the same time.  It's sick, but doing well. 

Also, I wanted to record that the Romas are really kicking ass.  As usual.  They're outproducing the San Marzanos by far (but I'll bet the SMs will win hands down in a taste test).  The Amish Paste is very sick, but the Principe Borgheses are doing well, as are the Red Figs.  I must count their fruit next time I'm out there.

Oh!  And the Snow White is COVERED in fruit!!  I am amazed at how many there are.  I've already picked three and had them for lunch today.  Nice, sweet and fruity flavor.  Very good!  I think it'll be a staple in my garden from now on.

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