KEY FACTORS CONSIDERED IMPORTANT BY SUCCESSFUL
Drs. Jerry M. Parsons, Roland E. Roberts
and Larry A. Stein
Texas Agricultural Extension Service
are always interested about "what's new" in vegetable
varieties. Every spring folks want to try a new variety hoping
it will produce more and maybe taste better. Horticulturists
for the Texas Agricultural Extension Service always try to stay
one jump ahead when it comes to new, improved varieties. Our
goal is to only recommend a variety which is significantly better
in some attribute such as yield or quality or flavor. Hundreds
of vegetable cultivars are offered for sale by major seed companies
in the United States of America. Texas Agricultural Extension
horticulturists comprise the only group capable of testing new
varieties in different locations throughout the state to see
which ones are best adapted. Lately, consolidation of many seed
companies into only a few huge companies which emphasize corporate
profits over service to the public, makes variety testing by
the Extension Service even more important. Seed of the tomato
varieties: Spring Giant, Big Set, Bingo (97), Whirlaway (97)
and President (96) are no longer produced and seed supplies
will be exhausted in the year designated beside each variety.
Seed of the superior varieties Bell Tower bell pepper and Summer
Sweet 860 bell pepper -- tested and recommended by the Extension
Service -- are unavailable or in short supply because of seed
production problems. These problems are pervasive in flowering
ornamentals as well. To address that situation, Extension horticulturists
conduct seasonal (spring, summer, fall and winter) trials to
determine which available ornamental and vegetable varieties
are the best producers for all Texans.
When a superior variety is at once recognized by Extension
Horticulturists, their real challenge begins. We have to relate
to gardeners how and why this variety is superior to previously
grown varieties. Then, hopefully, the nursery industry will
have sufficient faith in the recommendation to produce plants
which satisfy the consumer demand created by media promotions.
The official vehicle created by the Texas Agricultural Extension
Service to make this process work is named CEMAP (Coordinated
Educational Marketing Assistance Program). CEMAP initiated the
great horticultural promotions for Texas bluebonnets, Mari-Mums
(marigolds for fall beauty and nematode control), firebush (Hamelia
patens), satsuma mandarin orange, and Chinese pistache. This
year CEMAP will promote one of the best quality, highest yielding,
large-fruited tomato on the market today -- Merced. Several
years ago CEMAP featured another spectacular tomato named Surefire.
Gardeners had mixed results and made Extension horticulturists
aware of the urgent need to explain better ways to grow recommended
plants in addition to giving gardeners superior plant varieties.
A good example is Surefire, one of the highest yielding, fastest
maturing, longest storing, best tasting, heat-setting varieties
in the world. It is the only reliable tomato to give consistent
success in north Texas in fall plantings. Yet some gardeners,
who did not give it enough nutrients, were concerned about it
being a medium to small size tomato. Gardeners must realize
that "you don't put kerosene in a Cadillac" so to
speak and by the same token , you cannot expect results from
these high-performance hybrids without "maintenance"
cultural care during their growth. Some gardeners who don't
expect enough from varieties they select or themselves get exactly
what they deserve when mediocre care is given to these high-performance
hybrids. Texas Agricultural Extension Service horticulturists
expect every gardener who selects our recommended varieties
of tomatoes and peppers to harvest at least 15-30 pounds of
marketable (quality) tomatoes per plant and at least 3-5 pounds
of quality peppers per plant if the following cultural techniques
are followed!! Concerning taste, consumer flavor preference
is mostly determined by personal preference for component flavor
ratios of a given vegetable. Some people love the Surefire flavor;
others hate the flavor. Unfortunately, some of these folks with
differing opinions are married so we are not saying whether
a product tastes "good" or "bad". Now you
have a chance to experience new wonders by the productive new
vegetable varieties in Texas. These are listed and described
below. If you don't enjoy the flavor, your neighbors probably
will. This discussion of "new" vegetable varieties
is limited to the most popular garden plants -- tomatoes and
Proven TOMATO Varieties (Heat & Cold Setting)
Heatwave - V,F,St,TMV* ( Peto Seed Company, Abbott
&Cobb Seed Company) - is the standard heat setting large
fruited variety in recent years. The plant is semi- determinate
and vigorous. Stem cracking is minor with this variety.
Surefire (GS 12) - V,F* ( Northrup King Seed Company)
- the fastest maturing, heat-setting tomato producing abundant
medium (2 ´ to 4 oz.) fruit of excellent eating quality.
It is the only heat-setting tomato for producing abundant ripe
fruit when planted for fall production in northern areas of
Texas. For more information about Surefire visit InterNet site:
Sunmaster - (Peto Seed Company) - produces high yields
of large uniform fruit. The globe shaped fruit are very firm,
have uniform green shoulders and excellent color and flavor
when ripe. The vigorous, determinate plant produces harvest-ready
fruit in approximately 74 days after transplanting in spring
or summer (since it is a heat-setting tomato). SUNMASTER (V1,
F1, F2, St, ASC) is resistant/tolerant to verticillium wilt
(race 1), fusarium wilt (races I & II), stemphyllium and
alternaria stem canker. In 1996, we considered Sunmaster as
a replacement for Heatwave, seed of which was thought to be
unavailable. Sunmaster produced more fruit than Solar Set, Sunny,
HeatMaster and Heatwave in Florida and Texas. Sunmaster has
a "sweeter" flavor. Some people enjoy its sweeter
flavor and other people dislike it because of their preference
for a slightly more acid flavor.
*V denotes resistance to verticillium wilt; F denotes resistance
to fusarium wilt, N denotes resistance to nematodes, TMV denotes
resistance to tobacco mosaic virus, St denotes resistance to
stemphylium (gray leaf spot)
Heatwave, Surefire , SunMaster varieties have been observed
to set fruit well at day temperatures over 92 degrees F. and
during periods of extremely hot nights. Tomato breeders have
shown that incorporating the gene for heat setting ability also
strengthens cold setting ability. These known heat-setting pepper
and tomato varieties can also be planted in spring to ensure
that many fruit are set during cool spring weather.
Merced - V,F,St,TMV* (Northrup King Seed Company) -
WE BELIEVE THAT MERCED IS THE HIGHEST QUALITY TOMATO VARIETY
AVAILABLE TO US AT THIS TIME. The first crop of big, deep-globe
shaped tomatoes will be ready to harvest in 75-80 days from
transplant in the spring. Since it is not considered to be a
heat-setting tomato, days-to-harvest will depend on weather
conditions in July, August and September. Merced has fine appearance,
firmness and flavor. Merced's firm, smooth-shouldered fruit
ripen to a uniform bright red. The delicious flavor delivers
satisfaction -- it has a very likable, "this is how a tomato
should taste" flavor. Field test results from Florida,
California and Texas show that this variety has what it takes:
(1) wide adaptability (2) resistance to verticillium, fusarium
(races 1 and 2), stemphylium and tobacco mosaic virus (TMV)
(3) deep- globe shaped tomatoes with a meaty, rich texture.
It is much firmer, higher quality and meatier than other commonly
used varieties such as Celebrity.
*V denotes resistance to verticillium wilt; F denotes resistance
to fusarium wilt, N denotes resistance to nematodes, TMV denotes
resistance to tobacco mosaic virus, St denotes resistance to
stemphylium (gray leaf spot)
Proven Bell and Hot Pepper Varieties
CAPISTRANO, SWEET BELL PEPPER (Peto Seed Company) -
This new open pollinated sweet pepper is replacing standard
bell peppers like California Wonder, Keystone, Rio 66 and Yolo
Wonder types because it produces more, bigger peppers. Capistrano
has darker, thicker walls that can withstand rough handling.
This large, blocky, bell pepper is tolerant/resistant to tobacco
mosaic virus (Po), and is picked green for the fresh market.
It ripens red rather than yellow like the Summer Sweet 860 Hybrid.
Summer Sweet 860 (Abbott & Cobb Seed Company) is the best
quality, highest yielding sweet bell pepper which ripens to
GRANDE HYBRID JALAPENO (Peto Seed Company) - This hybrid
Jalapeno features larger fruit size (1.5" x 4"). The
fruit matures from dark green to red. It has thick walls and
medium pungency. GRANDE plants are vigorous and produce well,
even under stressful growing conditions. Maturity is medium,
75- 80 days from transplanting. It is tolerant/resistant to
TEV (Tobacco Etch Virus) and PVY (Potato Virus Y).
TO GET THE HIGHEST YIELDS OF THESE RECOMMENDED VARIETIES:
1. ESTABLISH & MAINTAIN HIGHLY FERTILE SOIL
The ideal soil for most vegetable production is very high
in organic matter.
If your soil is not high in organic matter apply compost or
manure. Before planting, apply well decomposed compost at the
rate of 40 to 60 pounds per 100 square feet of garden in addition
to the fertilizer nutrients you decide to apply.
In addition to the compost recommended above, manure can be
used instead of dry fertilizer. Manures vary widely in nutrient
concentration and salt content, so take care to not apply too
much. Compared to chemically formulated fertilizers, use of
manures is a less precise method of fertilization because sources
of manures vary greatly in nutrient and soluble salt content.
A safe application of sheep, rabbit, or cow manure is a rate
of no more than 50 pounds per 100 square feet (10 tons per acre).
Mix it well into the top 8 to 12 inches of soil by tilling or
spading. If a dried manure is used do not apply more than the
amount recommended on the bag.
Side dress tomato and pepper plants with nitrogen every two
to three weeks, starting when the first fruit are still tiny.
Apply one level tablespoons of urea (45-0-0) or two tablespoon
of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) per plant by sprinkling it uniformly
over a six-foot diameter circular pattern over the mulch or
soil around each plant. Then, immediately irrigate with one
inch of water.
2. TRANSPLANT 5- TO 6-WEEK OLD PLANTS GROWN IN 4- TO 5-INCH
Plants of tomato varieties older than 5 to 6 weeks and plants
grown in pots less than 4 to 5 inches diameter have been shown
to be less productive in carefully conducted research. So buy
plants no more than 4 to 5 weeks old in 4 to 5-inch pots. Space
plants to allow full access from all sides of the plant during
culture and harvest. Plant spacings of 4 feet to 6 feet in rows
6 to 8 feet apart for caged tomato production of vigorous determinate-plant
cultivars or for mulched ground culture work well. Smaller determinate-plant
tomato cultivars such as Surefire are more productive planted
two feet apart in the row. Pepper transplants, 7 to 8 weeks
old in 2 ´ to 3-inch pots or cell packs are best. In the
garden, peppers perform well spaced 12 to 18 inches apart in
rows 36 to 40 inches apart.
One of the most important techniques for successfully growing
a bumper crop of tomatoes and peppers is to use a starter solution
at transplanting time to ensure adequate fertility during early
growth of the plants. Purchase starter solutions at local garden
centers or make them at home by mixing 2 level tablespoons of
super phosphate in a gallon of water. Specially formulated commercial
starter solutions are generally preferable to home mixes because
they are usually higher in phosphates and are completely water
soluble. After following label directions for mixing the starter
solution, pour about a cup or so in each transplant hole or
pour the solution in the soil as part of the initial watering.
Set the transplant directly in the center of the hole and
fill with soil. If the tomato transplant is leggy and tall,
lay the stem portion of the plant on its side rather than digging
a hole deeper to accommodate the taller plant. Setting tomato
transplants too deep, especially in heavy clay soils, often
slows early growth, resulting in later maturity and fewer tomatoes.
Setting pepper transplants too deep causes the stem to rot (not
root!) and the plant dies. If your soil is sandy, deep planting
generally does not cause a problem.
3. BUILD AND USE PLASTIC/GROW-WEB WRAPPED CAGES FOR LOW
TEMPERATURE PROTECTION, WIND, HAIL, INSECTS DISEASE CONTROL
Tomatoes and peppers are subtropical plants and benefit from
early season protection. Use concrete reinforcing wire to form
a cage that is 18 to 24 inches in diameter and 5 feet in height.
Wrap cages with Grow-Web Spunweb products can be found in local
nurseries or mail-ordered directly from the manufacturers. One
address is: Indeco Products Incorporated, P.O. Box 865, San
Marcos, Texas 78666 Telephone: 512-396-5814 or 1-888-246-3326
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Clamp Grow-Web to the wire
with clothespins to keep it in place. The Grow-Web wrapped cage
will slow wind, keep air and soil warmer around the plant, prevent
entry into cage by virus-carrying insects, and let in plenty
of light. An additional wrap of clear polyethylene film increases
the temperature inside the cage during day by 20 to 30 degrees
F. and at night by 3 to 5 degrees F. if the cage top is covered
with the plastic.. Remove plastic from over the cage top during
the day to prevent overheating (temps. inside cage over 90 degrees
F. hurt the plant) . Cut vent holes in plastic at cage base
to permit cooling (chimney effect) during warm days. Remove
plastic when cage diameter is filled with foliage. When leaves
touch Grow-Web, unwrap and drape it over and around the cage
to continue repelling insects while liberating the plant to
grow and set fruit. If nuisance pests such as deer or birds
persist, the Grow-Web can be left on until harvest begins.
Either stake-and-tie or cage all tomatoes. Staking-and-tying
produces larger early tomatoes but less overall fruit than caging.
When staking tomatoes, put the stake in shortly after transplanting
to lessen root damage. A 6-foot stake set 10 inches deep in
the soil works well. As the plant grows taller, tie it loosely
to the stake every 12 inches with pieces of rag, twine or soft
Prune staked tomatoes to produce a more orderly vine. Remove
small shoots which grow out of the point where each leaf joins
the main stem. Remove shoots by bending them sideways until
they snap. Never cut suckers off because of the possibility
of transmitting disease organisms from one plant to the next.
For the two main vines, remove all but one shoot arising just
above the first cluster of blooms. It will develop into a second
branch. Be careful when suckering tomato varieties such as Surefire
which has a determinate growth habit. If the wrong growing top
is removed from these normally short-in-stature plants, they
will be stunted and less productive. Indeterminate tomato types
are better adapted to staking. If semi-determinate types such
as Merced, Heatwave and SunMaster are to be pruned, remove only
the first 4-6 suckers to insure good top foliage cover of the
fruit. Semi-determinate tomato varieties which are to be pruned
MUST receive continuous fertilization throughout the growing
season or foliage will be too sparse resulting in sunburned
Few, if any, tomato or pepper varieties will set fruit during
cool, cloudy weather. Even some of the heat - setting types
drop blooms in cloudy weather conditions. These tomato blooms
leave such a distinct stem when they fall from the bloom cluster
that many gardeners think the blooms have been eaten off by
insects. Artificial blossom-setting hormones, sold as Blossom-Set,
are helpful in setting or holding some of these blooms by "fooling
" the bloom into believing it has been pollinated. Most
of this poor fruit set caused by cloudy weather conditions directly
relates to incomplete pollination of the blooms. Tomato and
pepper flowers are wind or mechanically pollinated, so gardeners
don't have to worry about bee populations.
4. APPLY AND MAINTAIN DEEP LAYER OF MULCH WHICH CONSERVES
SOIL MOISTURE MAINTAINS OPTIMUM SOIL TEMPERATURE ENCOURAGES
EXTENSIVE ROOT SYSTEM - For a complete understanding of
Mulches and How They Work, visit the Internet site:
The optimum root zone temperature for tomato and pepper is
75 degrees F. Apply and maintain four to six inches depth of
clean wheat straw, or grass clippings, starting as soon as the
soil temperature has reached 70 degrees F. Mulch outward at
least four to six feet from stem (center) of plant. This will
conserve soil moisture, maintain near optimum root zone temperature,
allow roots to grow in soil right to the surface, and prevent
weed growth. The plant mulched in this manner will be much more
productive. Any fruit which touch dry mulch will not rot as
they do when resting on moist soil.
Mulch, mulch, mulch -- mulching can not be overemphasized
for tomato and pepper health, both in commercial fresh market
and home garden plantings. Mulching has been strongly emphasized
in horticulture education for generations as an important technique
for promoting plant health. Good sources of mulch include clean
wheat straw, rye straw, alfalfa, vetch, crimson clover, sorghum,
haygrazer and lawn clippings which have been allowed to heat
to over 140 degrees F. for 24 to 48 hours in plastic bags.
5. KEEP SOIL MOISTURE NEAR OPTIMUM
The tomato and pepper plants are water spenders. They can
not be conditioned to thrive on limited soil moisture. Consequences
of soil moisture deficit are aborted blossoms, blossom end rot,
radial fruit cracking, small fruit and lower yield, also insufficient
leaf growth and sunburn of fruit directly exposed to strong
Tomato and pepper roots will not grow in dry soil to find
moist soil. Maintain optimum soil moisture from the center of
the plant outward at least three to four feet to encourage maximum
root development which will result in optimum plant health and
highest possible fruit quality and yield. Roots of a healthy
tomato or pepper plant with full fruit load will grow outward
three to four feet from the stem base in all directions. This
is an area around the plant of over 28 square feet for a 3-foot
radius circle and over 50 square feet for a circle with a 4-foot
radius. One inch of water over 28 square feet (a circle with
radius of 3 feet) is about 16 gallons. One inch of water over
50 square feet (a circle with radius of 4 feet) is about 31
gallons. A half inch diameter hose delivers about 3 gallons/minute
at 50 to 60 psi. Know the delivery rate of your irrigation system,
and run your system long enough to deliver gallonage required.
The soil area inhabited by tomato or pepper roots will require
irrigation every 3 to 5 days depending on the temperature and
wind. Required volume of water will increase as plants grow
6. INSPECT PLANT FOR INSECTS AND DISEASES -- FOR CONTROLLING
ANY PEST MENTIONED GARDENERS MAY WANT TO USE THE MINI-INPUT
LOWER LEAF UNDERSIDE FOR MITES; GROWING TIPS AND UPPER LEAVES
FOR APHIDS; LOWER LEAVES FOR EARLY BLIGHT; LOWER LEAVES AND
FRUIT CALYX FOR PINWORM
Gardeners may want to check out the mini-input control techniques
outlined at Internet site:
Most insects are detected and controlled using a recommended
insecticide. Worms or caterpillars are the most conspicuous
to gardeners. Worms (caterpillars) come in a variety of colors
and shapes, but all damage plants by eating holes in leaves.
They feed on tomatoes as well as most garden vegetables. Entire
plants may be eaten by these caterpillars if they occur in large
numbers. These are easily controlled using Dipel, Thuricide,
Bio-Spray or Biological Worm Killer. These materials contain
the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis that kills only caterpillars
and does not harm beneficial insects. Good coverage of upper
and lower leaf surfaces is necessary for best control.
Pinworm adults (tiny nocturnal moths) love to lay eggs on
the bottom leaf lower surface near the plant center. From there
they spread upward on the plant acting much like leaf miners
and rolling the leaf around them as they build their little
cocoon in which to pupate. Timely use of Bacillus thuringiensis
will control most pinworms.
Spider mites are the least detectable pest. Spider mites are
tiny spiders (plant chiggers) that feed on the leaf undersides
of many garden vegetables and flowers. Most mites are about
1/32 inch long and live and feed in a web they produce rapidly.
They can damage plants in a short time. Inspect plants frequently
by examining the underside of leaves with a magnifying glass.
When large populations of mites are present, leaves appear "stippled"
or dotted with yellow, and webbing is usually present on the
underside of leaves. Spray plants with Kelthane and one teaspoon
of liquid soap. Repeat the spray every 4 days for two applications.
Sulfur also controls mites but do not apply on squash and other
vine crops. Highly refined summer oil can be applied to help
Control other insects by using insecticides such as diazinon,
malathion, Sevin or endosulfan which can be legally used on
the appropriate crop. Avoid continuous blanket use of any specific
insecticide. Otherwise, insects may become resistant to the
insecticide. It is a good idea to alternate labeled insecticides
Insects can be harmful, but disease can be disastrous. Diseases
MUST be prevented since diseased leaves cannot be cured.
There are two main diseases of tomatoes which cause disaster
every spring. Early blight (Alternaria) and Septoria leaf spot
( For photographs of the effects of these diseases on tomato
fruit and leaves, visit the InterNet site:
are the culprits. Early blight of tomatoes and peppers is characterized
by irregular, brown spots that first appear on older foliage.
With age, the spots show concentric rings forming a target pattern.
A yellow, diffuse zone is formed around each spot. Although
this fungus disease can be observed throughout the year, it
is most common during the fruiting period. Peppers are susceptible
to bacterial leaf spot, preventable with sprays of Kocide 101
if the weather turns rainy. The more tomatoes and peppers a
plant produces, the more susceptible to and disastrous are the
effects of an early blight infection. The fungus is favored
by high humidity and high temperatures. The ONLY control is
PREVENTION which begins when the plant is transplanted. During
periods of high humidity, which includes most of the spring,
apply a fungicide weekly after tomato fruit is formed. The best
fungicide to use is one containing chlorothalonil (Ortho Multipurpose
Fungicide Daconil or Fertilome Broad Spectrum Fungicide).
Another destructive foliage disease of tomatoes is Septoria
leaf spot. It may attack at any time; however, it generally
causes problems after the fruit begins maturing. In checking
plants for this disease, look at the older foliage. The fungus
is characterized by circular lesions with gray centers surrounded
by dark margins. With age, the spots become covered with tiny,
black specks from which spores grow. Lesions are smaller and
more numerous than tomato early blight spots. The fruit is rarely
affected, but stems and blossoms are attacked. The disease overwinters
on old tomato vines and wild relatives of the tomato family.
The fungus is most active when temperatures are between 60 degrees
and 80 degrees F. and during periods of high humidity. Apply
a fungicide containing benomyl. Because benomyl is a systemic
fungicide which goes into the plant, it lasts longer and does
not have to be applied as often. To provide complete fungus
protection from Septoria and early blight during spring periods
of high humidity, mix benomyl with the weekly chlorothalonil
(Daconil) every other week.
Bacterial leaf spot of peppers causes spots on both foliage
and fruit. Small, yellowish green to brown spots develop on
the leaves. Under favorable weather conditions, the spots become
numerous and sometimes coalesce into large spots. Infected leaves
then turn yellow and fall off. The best control is a copper
spray such as Kocide 101 or a streptomycin product such as Agri-Strep
applied weekly during periods of high humidity and leaf wetness.
7. HARVEST CAREFULLY AND TIMELY -- PICK TOMATO FRUIT WHEN
PINK AT BLOSSOM END; REMOVE CALYX TO PREVENT PUNCTURE; KEEP
TOMATO FRUIT AT 75 TO 55 DEGREES F. AND PEPPER FRUIT AT 45 TO
50 DEGREES F.
Tomato fruit do not ripen on the plant any better than off
the plant IF picked when pink color is visible on the blossom
end (side facing the ground) and held at room temperature in
light or dark.. This is a truth and reality that is hard for
many people to believe. Harvesting fruit when fruit are just
beginning to turn pink at the blossom end will maximize both
quality and yield by getting them out of harm's way. Remove
the calyx to prevent puncture and hold the fruit at 55 to 75
Harvest bell peppers when they are 4 to 5 inches long with
full, well-formed lobes. Immature peppers are soft, pliable,
thin fleshed and pale. Harvest most jalapenos when they are
2 to 2 ´ inches long; the Grande jalapeno can be 3-4 inches
long. Mature jalapenos turn orange or red; this does not mean
they are hotter. Store at 45 to 50 degrees F.
8. MAINTAIN PLANT HEALTH -- PRUNE OUT OLD LEAVES, FRUITING
TRUSSES, AND UNPRODUCTIVE STEMS; ROTATE EVERY YEAR (4 YEAR ROTATION
BEST); KEEP AREA AROUND PLANTS MULCHED
By midseason, older leaves at base of caged tomato plants
become infected with early blight or infested with pinworm.
These leaves are shaded by those above and no longer benefit
fruit growth. Basically all nonproductive plant tissue (fruiting
trusses, old yellowing or diseased leaves, spindly non-fruiting
stems) can be removed from the older (lower) regions of the
plant to let in more sunlight.
If possible, long rotation (4 years) will prevent soil borne
diseases and nematodes (For more information about nematode
control, visit the InterNet sites:
from becoming a problem. Do not plant an area to tomato or any
other member of the nightshade family (includes potato, pepper,
eggplant, tomato) or okra any more often than once every 4 years.
THEN ENJOY ALL THAT GOOD, HOME-GROWN EATING!!!!