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Agriculture Today

BHN-968 cherry tomato is sweet, easy to grow

BHN-968 cherry tomato is sweet, easy to grow
The BHN-968 cherry tomato is the most naturally disease-resistant cherry tomato ever sold in Texas, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist. TEXAS A&M AGRILIFE EXTENSION SERVICE

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Robert Burns
July 31, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION ---- The BHN-968 cherry tomato’s name may be bland, but a San Antonio tasting panel found it sweeter than any comparable cherry tomato, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist.

Not only is it one of the sweetest, but is one of the easiest to grow and higher yielding cherry tomatoes, said David Rodriguez, AgriLife Extension horticulture agent in Bexar County and member of the Texas Superstar board.

For these reasons and others, the BHN-968 cherry tomato has been named a Texas Superstar for 2013, Rodriguez said.

Texas Superstar plants undergo extensive tests throughout the state by Texas A&M AgriLife Research and AgriLife Extension horticulturists, said Dr. Brent Pemberton, AgriLife Research horticulturist and chair of the Texas Superstar executive board.

To be designated a Superstar, a plant must not just be beautiful but also perform well for consumers and growers throughout Texas. Superstars must also be easy to propagate, which should ensure the plants are not only widely available throughout Texas but also reasonably priced.

“The BHN-968 tomato is the most naturally disease-resistant cherry tomato we have seen in our evaluation trials,” Rodriguez said. “It is genetically resistant to the diseases of verticillium wilt and fusarium wilt, as well as tobacco mosaic virus and tomato spotted wilt virus.”

It is also the first cherry tomato variety found to be nematode resistant since Small Fry, a tomato developed by AgriLife Research horticulturists, according to Pemberton.

The BHN-968 is also one of the most flavorful varieties available to home gardeners, according to Rodriguez. In taste tests he and San Antonio Master Gardeners performed, the BHN-968 was rated “four times sweeter than any comparable cherry tomato.”

“The taste panels consisted of 10 to 12 individuals ranging in age from 50 to 83,” Rodriguez said. “This is the first tomato of any type to be taste-tested by AgriLife Extension to receive a unanimous favorable rating at every testing.”

The BHN-968 has also been tested by agents and, in a way, even given the “kid test,” and got high marks, he said.

“We’ve used it quite a bit locally in our children’s vegetable garden program, as well as our youth gardening program,” Rodriguez said. “As productive as it is, and as hardy as it is, every child gets to taste a few, even when the teacher is only growing a few plants.”

The BHN-968 was developed in Florida and initially used as a greenhouse tomato, then as a commercial field tomato. But allegedly it wasn’t productive enough for commercial growers, he said.

Also, commercial growers need tough-skinned plants that will survive handling and shipping. The BHN-968 had a somewhat softer fruit that didn’t meet these criteria, which gives it another plus score for home gardeners, Pemberton said.

“But what’s that old saying? ‘One man’s trash is another’s treasure?’’’ Rodriguez said. “In our trials here (in Texas) it was very reliable as a container plant as well as for the home gardener.

“Though BHN-968 might perform well in specialty growers -- if they stake them -- it’s probably not something that’s going to be grown by large-scale producers,” he said. “I really think it’s only for the small gardener, or the patio grower, or the specialty grower -- I think it’s really an excellent choice for them.”

Another advantage for the home gardener is that BHN-968, unlike other cherry tomatoes, is semi-determinate, also called a “naturally determinate” variety.

“Most cherry tomato varieties are predominantly indeterminate, meaning the plants can grow very large and get ‘out of bounds,’ you might say.”

But as the BHN-968 is semi-determinate, it’s not likely to spread out and outgrow a medium-size tomato cage, which for the average home gardener with space limitations makes it easier to manage, he said.

Because BHN-968 is a highly productive variety, it will need good fertility, particularly nitrogen, as do all modern tomato varieties, he said. Without good fertility, the bush will be smaller and produce less fruit.

Gardeners will most likely only be able to find transplants at home improvement stores and nurseries, according to Rodriguez.

“If they want to start their own seeds, the only big seed company that currently makes seed available for both commercial and home gardeners is Johnny’s Selected Seeds,” he said.

Gardeners may also locate a retailer by visiting the Texas Superstar program website at http://texassuperstar.com/ and clicking on “Retailers,” Pemberton noted.

Rodriguez said he believes as news of the quality of BHN-968 becomes widely known, grower demand will increase, and then wholesale plant growers will start making transplants more widely available. He offered these growing tips for BHN-968 cherry tomatoes:

•First planting times are the same as with other varieties, after the last projected frost.

•But well before the safe-planting date, gardeners can repot transplants to develop a more robust root system.

•Make sure the tomato cage is large enough, from 4 to 5 feet tall, with a 16- to 20-inch diameter. Because of the tomato bush’s top heaviness, particularly when it has a fruit load, be sure to stake the plants.

•For those who want an early planting and harvest, protect the cages with a white cloth product called N-Sulate, which helps minimize wind damage and gives the plant an extra 5 to 7 degrees of winter protection.

Texas Superstar is a registered trademark owned by Texas A&M AgriLife Research. More information about the Texas Superstar program can be found at http://www.texassuperstar.com/.

Robert Burns has nearly 30 years’ experience writing about agriculture and agricultural-related research. He writes about Texas AgriLife Research and Texas AgriLife Extension Service activities at the Overton Center and centers in Stephenville and Temple.

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