Fight Heat and Disease with 'TOMATO 444'

Tomato 444 Named Latest Texas SuperstarTM, March 9, 2004.

Gardeners can now "protect" the tomato crop from the non-productivity and/or odd colored fruit caused by TSWV (tomato spotted wilt) infection. A hybrid tomato variety named 'Tomato 444' has natural resistance to Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus and the problems it causes. The fruit is large and the quality is excellent. Tomato '444' is the only virus resistant hybrid which has been extremely productive as well as resistant to TSWV. Most of the tomato varieties which have done well in this area are hybrids. These include Big Set, Celebrity, Bingo and Merced. The super broccoli, Green Comet, and the fast maturing cauliflower, Snow Crown are hybrids which display superlative characteristics.


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A hybrid is a first generation cross of two genetically different selections. In order to obtain a high degree of uniformity, the parent lines are usually the result of inbreeding for several generations. Producing stock seed inbreds is a difficult task that may require years to perfect. The resulting crosses produce hybrids which are often sterile. The seed company that developed the hybrid then has an exclusive in sales which helps to pay for research, development cost and company motivation for continued research.

Many vegetables require hand pollination to produce the hybrid lines. Labor is expensive and often the costs are reflected in the price of the hybrid seed. In order to reduce costs, some companies use foreign labor and produce their seeds in South America or the Far East. Some hybrid seeds cost as much as 3-10 times the price of open-pollinated seed. Hybrid tomato seed can sell for over $40 for 1000 seed so hybrids such as '444' will ONLY be available as transplants, i.e., seed will not be packaged.

Hybrid seed has the advantage of high degree of uniformity as all the seeds are very similar genetically. This factor is very important in crops such as broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage. Hybrid varieties also seem to have an additional spark called hybrid vigor. The plants grow rapidly with good uniformity. By producing inbred lines with good disease resistance, the resulting hybrid crosses may inherit these qualities. This is why 'Tomato 444' has resistance to TSWV and other foliage diseases.

The fact that a variety is a hybrid does not make it an automatic winner, however. The horticultural merits of a hybrid must also be proven in every growing area, just as those of any other variety released. 'Tomato 444' has been tested for several years by Texas Cooperative Extension with the help of Gardening Volunteers of South Texas and has always produced a large crop of quality tomatoes. Yield and size data at:
http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/vegetables/2001tomatotrials/
shows that 'Tomato 444' (listed as BHN 444) yielded more fruit which were a larger size than Merced, Celebrity, Whirlaway, Bingo and Heatwave. This tendency was also repeated in the fall season as documented at:
http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/vegetables/2001falltomatotrials/
http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/vegetables/2003falltomatotrials/

This selection has been test marketed as 'Healthy Surprise' (the plant is "healthy" and eating tomatoes makes the grower healthy as well!--it will "Surprise" you with an abundance of large fruit!) as described at:
http://www.plantanswers.com/healthy_surprise.htm
Second generation seed at is also available from this website.

Gardeners always want to know how a tomato variety tastes. Tomato taste is an individual preference so you have to decide that for yourself using the growing conditions in your garden. However, in the spring, '2000, variety trial, a taste test reveiled that 'Tomato 444' was rated better than 'SunMaster' or 'Celebrity'.

The Tomato444 is hard-to-find and expensive for the nurserymen to grow so if there is danger of frost, high winds or hail, follow the instructions at:
http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/tomato.html
and repot the transplants to expand the root system and provide "insurance' plants by following this information:

Purchase good transplants of the Extension recommended and Texas SuperStar variety named 'Tomato444'. If it is too early to plant transplants in your area and you put them in the ground, THEY WILL BE FROZEN! Yet transplants of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants should be established as soon in the spring as feasibly possible so they can be blooming profusely when the optimum fruit setting conditions occur. So how can you safely grow Tomato444 plants during risky weather conditions? Simply buy plants with the intention of producing bitransplants (a bitransplant is a regular transplant which will be planted twice instead of once). Purchase transplants with the idea of putting them in pots instead of the soil.

A plant in a pot has the distinct advantage of being portable. This means that you can react when the weather person says the low temperature will be 35 degrees F. You know from experience the actual temperature will more-than-likely be either 25 degrees or 45 degrees so now you can move your portable plant into a protected location. If the colder temperature occurs, you and your plants can sit by the fire while those who transplanted directly into the garden too early are soiling every blanket in the house and receiving frost bite on their backs while attempting to protect exposed plants. Even if they succeed, the effort will not prevent the growth-retarding effects of cold soil and abusive treatment.

The potted plant will be expanding its root system at a faster rate than those in the soil because the potting soil will be warmer and porous. Never use garden soil in a container. Instead purchase a well-draining potting mix. Since the mix contains no fertilizer elements, mix in the right (according to label instructions) amounts of slow-release fertilizer pellets such as Osmocote before planting in a gallon-size container. Add a water-soluble fertilizer to the water each time the plants are moistened -- DO NOT OVERWATER or you will kill these precious transplants. Stick your finger in the potting soil and if you feel moisture--WALK AWAY!!! If you water too much, the base of the plants will rot and the plants will wilt. It is best to keep the plants on the "dry side" rather than overwatering them to death.

Keep the plants in full sunlight situation to avoid stretching or spindly growth. Transplanting of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants can safely occur in mid to late March in San Antonio and South; Hillcountry gardeners should wait until after April 10; for timing in other parts of the state, see the planting and transplanting table at:
http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/earthkind/ekgarden14.html

REMEMBER: Protect potted transplants from virus-spreading insects and wind damage by covering with Grow-Web as mentioned in # 3 of the tomato growing advice at:
http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/tomato.html


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