Why the new Rutgers tomato is a sell-out hit with gardeners
The hunger for a Jersey tomato is so great that it's already sold out.
The Rutgers 250 is a retro tomato, harking back to a 1934 variety developed by researchers at Rutgers University. This variety of tomato is so-named because this year is the university's 250th anniversary.
The Rutgers tomato has been popular for decades because it gave growers that "tomato tastiness" that came to be lacking in the tomatoes sold at grocery stores. Those tomatoes have to be tough enough to withstand factory farming and transportation, Rutgers plant biologist Thomas Orton says.
"Some people believe that the tomatoes from the early part of the 20th century, and even before that, the ones we call heirlooms, actually had better flavor, and that, over time, that flavor has been bred out by modern breeding techniques to cater more to the distribution network. And I believe that there is some truth to that."
Orton says this new Rutgers 250 tomato is aimed right at that home gardening sector. It is not really intended to be a commercial tomato.
"It is intended to be a tomato that you grow in your backyard, you grow to maturity and when it is ripe, you pick it and bring it inside and share it with your family and revel in some good flavor."
Commercial growers find this variety too soft, but Orton says researchers are working on a version that would be better suited for commercial production.
Apparently, no one could see the popularity this strain of tomato would generate. The 5,000 seed packets they developed were not nearly enough to satisfy home grown demands.
"We were really wrong," he says. "It sold out within just a couple of weeks."
The good news for home gardeners is they can still get some of the Rutgers 250 tomato plants at certain retail outlets.
Transplanting the plants now should yield tomatoes by August, he said.
Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5