Tomatoes top home gardeners’ lists of favorite crops, but since 2009, thousands of tomato lovers have had to stand by helplessly as persistent rains triggered outbreaks of late blight. Caused by the microorganism Phytophthora infestans, late blight kills susceptible tomato plants within days of infection. Once regarded as only a late-summer ailment that hit tomatoes sporadically, last year late blight handily wiped out tomato crops from New York to Georgia.
But the end of the late-blight nightmare is nigh. Thanks to breeding work done by Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Cornell University and North Carolina State University, gardeners can now fend off tomato blight by choosing from several good-tasting, blight-resistant varieties. Some are even “double-resistant,” meaning they have resistance to early blight, too, which affects tomatoes almost everywhere.
After trialing in North American gardens, Johnny’s double-resistant ‘Jasper’ cherry tomato was named a 2013 All-America Selections (AAS) winner. An early, widely adapted, indeterminate red cherry tomato, ‘Jasper’ received high ratings from AAS judges for its sweet flavor.
In field trials on Long Island, N.Y., slightly larger-fruited ‘Mountain Magic’ earned high flavor and performance scores from consumers. Bred by Randy Gardner at North Carolina State University, ‘Mountain Magic’ debuted on the market in 2012 after a long string of taste-test wins.
There’s an open-pollinated option for blight resistance, too: vigorous ‘Matt’s Wild Cherry,’ which is often the last heirloom tomato standing in gardens during bad blight years.
In cooperation with the North Carolina State tomato-breeding program, Johnny’s has also created ‘Defiant PhR,’ a variety that produces small, round slicing tomatoes on compact, determinate plants. ‘Iron Lady,’ a joint breeding project between Cornell University and North Carolina State, resists early and late blights as well as septoria leaf spot, a disease known to weaken plants after they’ve set fruit. ‘Iron Lady’ bears clusters of 3-inch-round red fruits on bushy, determinate plants.
‘Jasper,’ ‘Mountain Magic’ and ‘Matt’s Wild Cherry’ tomato seeds are widely available from major seed companies. Bonnie Plants sells ‘Defiant PhR’ plants, or you can buy seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. High Mowing Organic Seeds offers seeds of ‘Iron Lady.’
Contributing editorBarbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on Google+.