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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Open 9 to 6 Mon. through Sat.
and 10 to 5 on Sun.

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

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Winter Taste of Tomatoes

At this time of year, the magnificent taste and flavor of freshly harvested tomatoes is a mere memory. At times, this memory overcomes our better judgment; and we rush to the nearest supermarket to purchase one of those smooth, almost?red items labeled "vine?ripened tomatoes."

The tomato looks good, feels good, but tastes??and I use this word loosely—terrible. We quickly realize where the saying "I would rather fight than switch" originated. It must have first been uttered by a gardener who expected a fresh tomato, but then instead got a taste of this fraud!

"Homegrown" is also applied to these winter phonies disguised as tomatoes. I don't doubt they are homegrown, but at whose home and where? Why can't we purchase garden?fresh tomatoes when we really need them? There is a popular misconception that "vine ripened" as used in the produce trade, means a tomato that is fully colored at the time it is picked. This is not so. "Vine ripe" is a very ambiguous and loosely-used term.

The color distinction is important to the produce trade because it has some influence on storage and ripening methods. "Vine ripe" tomatoes are almost always grown on poles or stakes. Frequent picking is required to meet "breaking" or "turning" color standards, and yields are higher than for bush?type tomatoes that are picked less often at the "mature green" stage.

Everyone in the tomato business would like to deliver a better?flavored tomato to the consumer. But there are serious economic and genetic obstacles. The full?ripe tomato that can be grown in a garden is much too soft to be handled through commercial channels without enormous loss, which would be directly reflected in cost. But in breeding tomatoes for firmness and other characteristics important to commercial production and handling, breeders find what appears to be some genetic linkages that make it difficult to provide the "garden" type flavor, particularly when tomatoes are produced for harvest at times other late summer and early fall.

In effect, some of the genes influencing levels of acid, sugar, and aromatics seem to be tied to genes affecting other characteristics in ways that make it very difficult to produce a commercial market variety with the good flavor of a garden variety. There has been progress in breeding market tomatoes with higher flavor, and we can expect more improvement, but the technical obstacles are complex and even obstinate.

The ability to produce high flavor is also limited by such factors as maintaining temperatures under 55 degrees F. until tomatoes are fully ripe. Retailers and consumers often store tomatoes at lower temperatures.

Practically speaking, there is no way to produce a tomato under commercial conditions then deliver it to you through retail food stores that will have a flavor comparable to the tomato you may grow in your garden. So what's the answer? Tune up the old roto-tiller, start exercising, and get in shape for spring gardening. It's time to plant seeds of beets, cabbage, carrots, collards, Swiss chard, lettuce, potatoes, radishes, and turnips and transplants of broccoli, cauliflower (Snowcrown variety only), onions, peppers and tomatoes.

Also, be sure to try to purchase varieties recommended by the Extension service because these varieties are always selected for taste as well as superior yields. Taste panels are composed of members of the volunteer groups that help plant and harvest vegetable variety trials for the Texas Cooperative Extension. Such tomatoes as Merced, Heatwave, SunMaster, Surefire, and Tomato 444 have been discovered using this process.

See the data for tomato selections at: