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Extension Master Gardener Volunteers Trial NC State Disease-Resistant Tomato Varieties

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Tomato harvest

Local EMG program coordinator Krys Ochota shows off the first harvest from the test plot at the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center.

As many of us have discovered, pests and diseases can make growing a bountiful tomato crop challenging. To help identify tomato varieties that are less problem-prone, Extension Master Gardener volunteers trialed three new disease-resistant varieties developed by NC State plant breeders. 

The goals of the trial were to determine which varieties were the tastiest, most productive, and best suited for growing in home and community gardens. The tomato varieties tested were bred and selected by NC State Fresh Market Tomato Breeding Program team members Dilip Panthee, Reza Shekasteband, and Randolph Gardener. They were: 

  • ‘Mountain Regina’ – A variety with an indeterminate growth habit that bears large, red fruit.
  • ‘Mountain Heritage’ – Another indeterminate variety that produces large, pink fruit similar in shape to those borne by ‘Cherokee Purple.’
  • ‘NC1012’ – A determinate variety with large red fruit.

Also included in the trial was ‘Cherokee Purple,’ an heirloom variety with indeterminate growth and large, purple fruit. As with many heirloom varieties, ‘Cherokee Purple’ has little disease resistance and is grown mainly for its superior flavor. The performance and taste of the new disease-resistant varieties were compared to this long-time favorite.

The trial, which evaluated varieties based on yield, harvest window, pest and disease tolerance, taste, and appearance, was designed by Matt Jones, N.C. Cooperative Extension horticulture agent in Chatham County, and Inga Meadows, NC State Extension Specialist for vegetable and herbaceous ornamental plant pathology. 

Master gardener volunteers inspect tomato plants for insect and disease issues.

Master Gardener volunteer interns Ronnie Abbott and Jen Williams monitor tomato plants for disease symptoms at the Brunswick County Center (left). Rob Bergmueller, Master Gardener volunteer in Chatham County, inspects a developing fruit (right).

Extension Master Gardener volunteers in Chatham and Brunswick County grew the varieties in test plots at their local Extension center or in their own yards. Here are conclusions based on their results. 

  • All three NC State bred varieties were more productive and had a longer harvest window than ‘Cherokee Purple.’
  • ‘Mountain Regina’ was most preferred in taste tests, followed by ‘Mountain Heritage.’

In addition to evaluating three NC State-bred tomato varieties, the trial pilot-tested protocols and procedures that will be used to expand the project to more sites and involve volunteers in additional counties in 2024. 

Extension Master Gardener volunteers work with Extension professionals across North Carolina to grow knowledge and promote sustainable gardening practices by

  • participating in citizen science and research projects,
  • providing research-based information,
  • and offering educational programming and community outreach.

Other research projects they have contributed to include a basil variety trial and a project that investigated how to improve pollinator habitat in residential landscapes.

This project was possible thanks to funding provided by NC State Extension administration through the Horticulture Working Groups. Many thanks to Extension horticulture agent Matt Jones and Extension Plant Pathologist Inga Meadows for their leadership of this pilot project. 

Infographic with statistics for the NC State Extension Master Gardener program.

The NC State Extension Master Gardener℠ program is a statewide network of volunteers and Extension educators working in N.C. Cooperative Extension county centers and on NC State campus. Through education and outreach, we connect people with the benefits of gardening and empower North Carolinians to cultivate healthy plants, landscapes, ecosystems, and communities. 

Explore stories from our 2023 Annual Report, which celebrates our work to help North Carolinians improve their lives and grow our state.

Join, support, or connect with Extension Master Gardener volunteers in your community.