San Antonio Express News
Sunday, August 7, 2005
By Dr. Jerry Parsons
Gardeners have faced discouraging arguments about saving their own seed, both in what they read and from conversations with other gardeners and horticulturists. These precautions and arguments should have been heeded most of the time and close attention paid to some of the obvious pitfalls, such as mentioned at: http://www.plantanswers.com/garden_column/dec04/2.htm
But desperate times call for desperate actions-if we don’t save some seed of our favorite, vanishing hybrids, they will be gone forever. I am now going to encourage you to save seed from hybrids mainly because of the problems we are experiencing with the commercial seed companies discontinuing the production of the favorite Texas varieties. All of these problems are explained at: http://www.plantanswers.com/veg_varieties.htm
Since we have tested and selected absolutely the most adapted, reliable producing varieties for this area, if we save seed from hybrid vegetables which absolutely “won’t produce exactly the same in the next generation”, the saved seed will still be a great deal better than other non-adapted hybrids which we will be forced to use because of the non-availability of our favorite hybrids.
Granted, it is difficult for the home gardener to isolate varieties to avoid unwanted cross pollination. However, tomatoes and peppers are 85 percent self-pollinated and crossing seldom occurs on the first fruit set of the plant. If you plant only recommended varieties in close proximity, the small percentage of crossing could conceivably result in a better selection than the original hybrid. So to insure optimum results, choose the first fruit which ripens on the plant which has the qualities (yield, foliage, health, vigor, etc.) which you want to maintain in the seedling selections. It is true that self-pollinating a hybrid will result in the gradual deterioration or “running out” of the original qualities of the hybrid but, if careful selection is used, this process can take 5-10 generations. To find some simple directions on how to save seed from your favorite tomato variety, go to the second article in the August section at: http://www.plantanswers.com/garden_columns.htm entitled: “SAVING SEED OF HYBRID VARIETIES – ONCE NOT RECOMMENDED; NOW ENCOURAGED”.
This problem of disappearing vegetable varieties become more apparent when planting tomatoes for fall production. All of the tried-and-proven heat-setting tomato varieties such as Surefire, SunMaster and Heatwave are getting harder and harder to find. With non-heat-setting varieties, the successful production of fall tomatoes is entirely dependent upon how soon cool fall weather arrives. If cool weather arrives in mid-September, the non-heat-setting varieties such as Celebrity can set tomatoes and ripen them in 60 days or by mid-November. Mid-November is, on the average, when the majority of our area receives its first killing frost. We have also seen tomatoes killed by an early frost on Halloween. The great thing about the heat-setters is that they don’t require that cool snap in September to begin setting fruit…They set the first blooms.
So to save our heat-setters and to insure fall tomato production, saved seed from a hybrid tomato variety for you. I have chosen the most reliable fall tomato for all parts of Texas named “Surefire.” It is the first Texas SuperStar vegetable and was promoted statewide in Fall, 1992 in August. Surefire is a name I gave to GS12 which was originally sold by Goldsmith Seed which was purchased by Northrup King Seed Company. The Surefire (VF) tomato variety is resistant to Verticillium (V) Wilt and Fusarium (F) Wilt but not to nematodes. Smaller determinate tomatoes such as Surefire are more productive per square foot and should be planted two feet apart in the row. Follow all of the recommendations for tomato growing at: http://aggie horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/tomato.html
If you think you have waited too late to plant fall tomatoes, think again!! Because the horridly hot temperatures have somewhat subsided, you may have been smart to wait to transplant fall vegetables. Make sure you use a heat-setting variety such as Surefire, SunPride, Heatwave and Solar Fire and you can expect to be harvesting vine-ripened tomatoes by early November. This week you should also be able to find some transplants of Amelia (the Rodeo tomato) as well-it has not been tested for heat-setting ability so gardener-beware. Also realize, depending on when the first killing frost occurs, if you are not going to provide cold protection, you will have lots of green tomatoes to use. Check out the green tomato recipes at: http://aggiehorticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/recipes /tomrec.html
So now you know the plan for a successful fall tomato crop. Enjoy.
Dr. Jerry Parsons is a Professor for Texas A&M University and a Texas Cooperative Extension Horticulturist for over 30 years in South Central Texas. For more information on this or other horticulture topics, go to www.plantanswers.com and our County Extension website at http://bexar-tx.tamu.edu.