The Rutgers tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum) is one of the tastiest tomatoes ever. In the words of Lyman Schermerhorn, the breeder credited with developing the variety:
The flavor of the fruit is very pleasing and makes juice with a medium high percentage of sugar with low acidity which is just intermediate between the sweet Marglobe and the tart JTD. It is adapted for canning, market and home garden and is particularly suited for the manufacture of a fine flavored, highly colored juice.”
Read on to find out why it remains a favorite, almost a century since its introduction.
We will also look at everything you need to know about growing this Rutgers tomato in your garden.
A Brief History of the Rutgers Tomato
There are hundreds of tomato varieties, but few ever become household names. One of the varieties to achieve this status is the Rutgers tomato.
It was introduced in 1934 by Lyman Schermerhorn, and soon after became the variety of choice for:
- Campbell Soup Company
- H. J. Heinz Company
- Hunt’s Tomato Sauce
- P.J. Ritter Company
Rutgers then went on to become the preferred variety for commercial growers. By 1952, it made up about 72% of all commercially grown tomatoes in the U.S.
However, it’s popularity plummeted in the 1960s with the introduction of automated picking. These tomatoes were thin-skinned and thus ill-suited for automated picking.
Eventually, the tomato variety fell out of favor with commercial growers and farmers altogether.
By 2015, NJAES scientists had narrowed down to three finalists for the reinvented Rutgers. After several consumer taste tests, a final selection was made.
The reinvented tomato debuted in 2016. Coinciding with Rutger University’s 250th anniversary. Thus the new variety was dubbed the Rutgers 250 tomato.
How to Grow Rutgers Tomatoes
Starting Your Tomatoes Indoors
Plant your seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date. Sow each seed about ¼ inch deep in the starting mix and place the seed tray in a warm area until sprouts appear. This takes between 5 and 11 days.
Once the sprouts appear, you can move the seed tray to a sunny window.
Water the seedlings only when the starting mix feels dry to the touch. Also, the seedlings don’t need much fertilizer before transplanting. You can feed them using a starter solution when they are 3-4 weeks old.
Note that before transplanting you will need to “Harden Off” your seedlings.
Do this a week before transplanting by introducing the seedlings to the outdoor conditions in increments.
Start in a shaded area with no wind and gradually work your way up to full sun and wind. This allows the plants time to toughen their cell structure. This reduces the chances of transplant shock and scalding.
Planting Rutgers Tomatoes in the Garden
Transplant your seedlings into the pared garden bed 2-3 weeks after the last frost date. Or when soil temperatures are at least 60℉.
Burry two-thirds of the stem when planting the seedlings to encourage strong roots. Tomatoes can sprout new roots from the stem. This will encourage more root formation and thus stronger plants.
You should also ensure the following conditions for optimal growth:
- Soil: Rutgers tomato plants require well-drained, nutrient-rich soil. Mix in some compost, or other organic matter into the soil before planting. You can also conduct a soil test to ensure your soil is within the optimal pH range – between 6-6.8.
- Water: Balanced moisture is critical in preventing blossom end rot and split fruits. Ensure you maintain consistently moist soil throughout the growing season.
You should also water at the base of the plant. Moisture around the leaves encourages disease and infection.
- Fertilizer: Use about one ounce of high phosphorus fertilizer during transplanting. Fertilize again when the plants start fruiting and after your first harvest.
- Plant Support: Unsupported plants sprawl on the ground producing smaller fruits. These may also be at greater risk of rotting as the fruits will likely touch the ground.
Use supports such as stakes or growing cages to help hold up your plants.
Here’s a brief overview of the Rutgers variety:
|Solanum lycopersicum||Determinate/Indeterminate||70-80 days|
|Heirloom, Open-pollinated||Red fleshy globe, thin-walled, sweet flavor||Full Sun|
|Sow Method||Fruit Weight||Spread|
|Indoor seed sow||6-10 ounces||32-54 inches|
|Sow Time||Fruit Maturity||Height|
|6-8 weeks before the last frost||Early to Mid Season||68-80 inches|
|5-11 days||Rich well-drained, high organic content||36 inches|
|USDA Hardiness Zones||Resistance||Life Cycle|
|Zones 3-9||Verticillium wilt (V) Fusarium wilt (F) Alternaria stem canker (A)||Annual|
Are Rutgers Tomatoes Indeterminate or Determinate?
Determinate and indeterminate (and semi-determinate) are words that describe the growing habits of tomato plants.
Determinate tomato varieties grow upright in bushes of about 4 feet. Upon maturity, they bear fruits only once during the growing season then die.
Indeterminate tomato varieties grow in sprawling vines. They will continue growing until killed off by the cold. They also produce fruits throughout the growing season.
Whether your Rutgers tomatoes are determinate or indeterminate depends on the cultivar.
In the 20th century, Rutgers tomatoes were used to breed new varieties with improved disease resistance. Many of the resulting cultivars retained “Rutgers” in their names. Some of the resulting hybrids include:
- Rutgers California Supreme
- Rutgers Hybrid F
- Rutgers Hybrid VF
- Rutgers Improved PS
- Rutgers Select
- Rutgers Space Select
When buying your tomato seeds, check the information provided by the supplier. This is the safest way to determine your plants’ growing habit.
How to Harvest and Store Your Rutgers Tomatoes
In general, vine-ripened tomatoes have a richer flavor. However, they also tend to crack if left on the plants too long.
You can tell your tomatoes are good to go when they are bright red, and firmly gently squeezed. Their skins should also look smooth and waxy.
To harvest gently grab and twist the fruit until it pulls away from the stem. Alternatively, you may also use a pair of garden clippers.
Store your tomatoes indoors at room temperature, or in the shade outside. You should never refrigerate tomatoes.
Note that the fruits will keep for longer if you keep the stems and caps in place until you are ready to eat them. Although you should consume them within a week for peak flavor and nutrition.
How to Save Your Tomato Seeds for the Next Season
To harvest and save tomato seeds for the next growing season:
- Cut the fruit across the middle and squeeze out the seeds and pulp into a container.
- Leave the container aside for about three days for the seeds and pulp to ferment. This mimics the natural process where the fruits drop from the vines and rot away on the ground. The rotting breaks down the compound around the tomato seeds that prevent germination.
- After three days, the container will be moldy and smell horrible. This is normal. Just add water to the container and stir.
- The good seeds will sink to the bottom while the mold and damaged seeds will float. Pour them out and repeat until only good seeds remain.
- Place the good seeds on a plate to dry – this may take up to 12 days. After the seeds are dry, you can place them in a labeled envelope ready for the next growing season. If stored well, the seeds can last between 5 and 10 years.
Common Issues With The Rutgers Tomato
Improved Rutgers plant cultivars have good resistance to the most common tomato diseases. However, there are still a few pests and infections you should look out for. These include:
You can prevent early blight by ensuring your plants’ foliage stays dry. In severe cases, you can also use fungicidal sprays with copper hydroxide.
Bacterial Spec and Anthracnose
These are both bacterial infections caused by Pseudomonas syringae and Colletotrichum coccodes respectively. They cause large black spots on the fruits affecting fruit quality.
The best prevention for these diseases is through the use of disease-free seeds from a reliable source. You should also avoid contact with the plants in damp conditions.
These are large green caterpillars that feed on tomato leaves and fruit. If left unchecked, they can cause serious damage to your plants.
You can control them naturally by handpicking the worms and their larvae.
These are caterpillars that eat and cut young plants from the roots at the soil line.
You can control these pests by weeding your garden at least two weeks before planting. You can also use collars on young plant stems to protect them.
Learn more About Tomato Growing
Although the Rutgers tomato is no longer popular among commercial growers, it is still widely popular with home gardeners and enthusiasts. This is because it’s still unmatched in flavor.
The rich flavor and disease resistance makes it perfect for your home garden.
And with the help of resources like Gardening Channel, growing the tomato should be a piece of cake! Here you will get free access to all the information you need to unlock your full gardening potential.
For more tips, tricks, and advice on gardening, visit Gardening Channel today.
Photo from needpix.com