“Top Gun” Rodeo Tomato

Plant of the Week
February 3, 2007

New “TOP GUN” 2007  Rodeo Tomato

"TOP GUN" 2007  Rodeo TomatoThere’s a new “Top Gun” in town and it’s available at this year’s San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo from Feb 1-18. The new “Top Gun” tomato release will be for sale at the Bexar County Master Gardener area at the Texas Experience pavilion. The 20,000 square foot pavilion is located on the west side of the event grounds near the Freeman Coliseum. The pavilion will be open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays, from Feb 1 through 18.

The “Top Gun” tomato is a medium-to-large size tomato which is uniformly large, round, firm fleshed and highly flavored with a good balance of acid to sugars. It also has a superb disease package including virus-resistant and is heat tolerant.

“Top Gun” can be grown in a container or in the ground and has similar qualities as a Patio Tomato, but produces a larger fruit and has additional positive attributes. For example, it is semi-determinate, which means they grow their foliage and then set their fruit in relatively distinct stages over a short season. Such a plant works best for a climate like San Antonio where we have a short period of mild weather in late spring (and again in the autumn) when conditions are suitable for tomatoes. The indeterminate varieties like Better Boy, Better Girl, and Beefmaster produce fruit and grow foliage together over a long season. In San Antonio the result is usually huge plants and two or three big fruit. I do not know about you, but I would rather have fruit than foliage!

Have you ever wondered how the gardeners who harvest the first tomato beat everyone else? The usual trick is to “pot up” tomatoes now and then plant the result of the “potting up” into the vegetable garden or larger container when the soil and air temperatures have warmed up enough to support tomato plant growth and fruit setting.

To “pot up” your transplants, fill a one to three gallon black plastic container with a high quality potting soil. Enrich the potting soil with an organic slow release granular fertilizer made especially for containers with a 4-2-3 analysis. Be generous with the fertilizer about 1 cup, tomatoes are heavy feeders if you want maximum fruit production. Place the transplants in the container. They can be planted deeply; tomatoes are one of the few plants that can tolerate deep planting. Roots will form along the whole stem. This is especially important if you transplants are leggy or top heavy.

The goal of the “potting up” activity is to maintain the fast growth rate established at the nursery. Place the potted up tomato in full sun in a location out of the wind. The wind can injure foliage and reduce tomato growth. A greenhouse is ideal, but many locations on the patio or the south side of the house also work well.

It is important to keep the tomatoes well watered. Watering every other day is not too often. The high quality potting soils are very well drained so they usually will not become soggy. Reduce watering when the weather is overcast and/or cool.

If the plant is subjected to more than a few hours of sub 40° F temperatures it will “harden off.” To “harden off” means, that the plant is reorganizing its chemistry to survive rather than to grow. You will recognize it if the plant stops growing and you see some purplish coloring. “Hardening off” is what will happen if you plant the tomatoes directly into the garden before March 1st.

To maintain the tomato transplant in a growing state move it to shelter when temperatures below 40° F are forecast. That may mean putting the pots in the house on cold evenings.

If you do everything as described, your “potted up” plants will be quite large and may even begin blooming by March or April when they can be transplanted to the vegetable garden or larger container.

Re-fertilize the newly planted tomato with two cups of slow release organic fertilizer (4-2-3 is good), and then mulch with live oak leaves or another material. Water frequently in containers, and feed often with a good water soluble fertilizer with a 6-12-6 analysis. Drip irrigation is the best method. Six to eight weeks later you will be harvesting tomatoes just like those folks shown holding the first tomato in the newspaper.

So make plans to visit Extension’s “Texas Experience” pavillon at the Stock Show & Rodeo, and purchase a few of the new “Top Gun” tomatoes. This might be the best tomato that you have ever heard of, bought, planted, or tasted. Check it out!

Money from the tomato sales will be used toward a scholarship for a student interested in pursuing a college degree in horticulture or a subject related to the Green Industry. Master Gardeners hope to raise between $1,500 and $2000 from plant sales this year. This project also enables San Antonio Livestock Exposition to contribute to maintenance and management of hundreds of class-room gardens in Bexar County.

We’re offering a really good price on these high-quality tomatoes for a worthwhile reason and hope people will stop by the Texas Experience Pavilion at the Rodeo to take advantage of this special offer.

Remember, Learn and Have Fun!

David Rodriguez is County Extension Agent-Horticulture, Bexar County. For more information, call the Master Gardener ‘Hotline’ at (210) 467-6575 or visit our County Extension website at http://bexar-tx.tamu.edu, click under Horticulture and Gardening.

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