What’s the Deal with Rutgers Tomato?
With so many appended monikers—Original, 250, Select, Hybrid VF, Schermerhorn—what makes Rutgers Rutgers?
The original Rutgers tomato was developed by Rutgers University and the Campbell Soup Company during the late 1920s and early 1930s, the heyday of Garden State canneries. There are accounts of family farms shipping 30–50 tons of hand-picked tomatoes per day to the likes of Campbell, Heinz and Hunt. Reportedly, the roads ran red from squished tomatoes that fell from wagons. There was a ready market in New Jersey for a good workhorse processing tomato, especially one that could be canned up as juice. Campbell did the original cross (between Marglobe, a USDA variety, and JTD, named for JT Dorrance, the innovator behind Campbell’s condensed soups), and for the next six years Rutgers breeder Lyman Schermerhorn did the breeding selection, conducting field tests at farms in the area. The genius of the breeding was that the resultant tomato, with good flavor for fresh eating, was also desirable to home gardeners.
Rutgers tomato found worldwide popularity through the 1950s, but all was lost when hybrids took over in the processing market. Schermerhorn maintained the tomato’s breeding stock until he retired in the ’50s, but after that the variety vanished.
Lo! in 2010 the Campbell Soup Company was found to possess descendent seed from the populations used to develop the original Rutgers. With a roadmap Schermerhorn had published on the process for breeding Rutgers, a new program was launched to recreate the original selection. By 2015, three finalist contenders were ready for consumer taste tests throughout the state. The winner was named Rutger’s 250, since the timing of its release coincided with Rutgers University’s 250th anniversary. This is what we have been carrying for the last 5 years as the inaccurately named Rutgers Original.
After the release of Rutgers 250, the NJ Master Gardeners distributed seedlings of the runner-up tomato, which Nate Kleinman of Experimental Farm Network grew in his NJ garden and liked better. He applauds it as two weeks earlier, less susceptible to disease and still delicious. This year’s stock of Rutgers Schermerhorn seed came from him.
250–650 seeds/g unless otherwise noted.
Preventing Late Blight
Dry conditions spare us some years, but late blight is here to stay, especially for field-grown crops. Cool temperatures, moist conditions, still air and lack of sunshine favor sporulation; spores can occur and advance in any condition of high humidity. LB might spread quickly... or not; wind-borne spores can travel hundreds of miles on storm fronts, but also can be baked into submission by the hot sun. Once LB lesions develop on your plants take immediate action to halt the disease in hopes of salvaging a crop. Our recommendations:
- Where possible, use resistant varieties.
- Try to find tolerant cultivars—use anecdotal evidence and experiment.
- Grow your own tomato plants or buy locally grown seedlings. Avoid big-box seedlings. Know your farmer!
- Do not use saved potatoes as seed stock. Purchase only new certified disease-free seed potatoes. Click here for more potato-related late blight info.
- Plant in areas with full sun and few wind blocks. Avoid shade and moist environments. Facilitate air movement. Maintain high soil fertility.
- If you choose to spray, have a plan and materials on hand, so you can make quick and timely application(s) when conditions indicate. Order supplies from Organic Growers Supply
- Most market growers and many home gardeners now grow at least a portion of their tomatoes in high tunnels, which greatly reduces vulnerability though still requires vigilance.
Culture: Usually started indoors Feb–April. Minimum germination soil temperature 60°, optimal range 75–90°. Transplant after frost danger has passed. Avoid using fresh manure as it causes lush foliage with few ripe fruits. Instead use generous amounts of well-rotted cow or horse manure or compost to boost plant vigor, and crushed eggshells or gypsum at the bottom of each hole for calcium. Heavy phosphorus needs. Responds well to foliar sprays.
Organically and sustainably grown seed was rinsed with a sodium hypochlorite solution to reduce risk of seed-borne disease. This treatment poses no health risks.
Saving Seed: Saving tomato seed is easy! Remove stem-end and crush the fully ripe fruit into a container. Ferment uncovered for a few days until the slurry forms a moldy cap. Rinse in a fine strainer and dry seeds on a coffee filter. To ensure true-to-type seed, grow open-pollinated varieties and separate by 50 feet.
- ASC: Alternaria Stem Canker
- EB: Early Blight
- F: Fusarium
- GLS: Grey Leaf Spot
- LB: Late Blight
- N: Nematodes
- SEPT: Septoria Leaf Spot
- TSWV: Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus
- TMV: Tobacco Mosaic Virus
- V: Verticillium
Pests and Disease Remedies for Tomatoes
Early Blight shows up as drying and dying leaves at the bottom of the plant. EB can be managed culturally; should not result in significant crop loss. Mulching deters EB by reducing rain splash on foliage. Do not compost affected plants as EB can overwinter even on dead tissue.
Cultural controls: Rotation, avoid stressing plants, staking, minimize leaf wetness, mulching, indeterminate varieties are more resistant/tolerant, disinfect stakes & cages.
Material controls: Regalia, Cease.
Late Blight usually starts on the foliage of the plant. Early in the season, late blight infection shows as roundish lesions on leaves that uniquely will cross the center vein of the leaf. Later, blotches appear on stems. Still later, hard crusty lesions form on fruits. LB on tomatoes is not seed-borne and does not survive on dead tissue. Letting plants freeze on soil surface kills LB spores.
Cultural controls: Destroy cull potatoes & potato volunteers, avoid overhead irrigation.
Material controls: Regalia, Copper, Cease.
Septoria Leaf Spot can appear almost overnight. It is characterized by yellowing and small circular spots on older leaves. It can eventually spread to the entire plant in conditions of high humidity and temperatures. It can be spread by wind or carried on clothing and tools. Septoria can live over the winter on live tissue, so don't compost affected plants.
Cultural controls: Space plants for good air circulation.
Material controls: Regalia, Copper, MilStop.
Cultural controls: Rotation, mulching, minimize plant wetness, staking, use compost.
Material controls: MilStop, Copper, Regalia, Cease
Cultural controls: Look for frass (droppings) and handpick. Eeeuww! Use a blacklight to find them. See if you can get the chickens to eat them.
Material controls: Bacillus thuringiensis subsp.kurstaki, Monterey Garden Insect Spray, Entrust.
Tarnished Plant Bug
Cultural controls: Floating row covers, good weed control.
Material Controls: Pyrethrin.
Bacterial Canker, Spec and Spot
Cultural controls: Disinfect greenhouse materials & cages, farming tools & gloves, avoid overhead irrigation, don’t work crop when wet, rotate crops, use compost.
Material controls: Copper.
For the latest results of our germination tests, please see the germination page.