SAN ANTONIO — A rose is not just a rose and a tomato is not just a tomato, considering the time and effort put into selecting the ‘rodeo’ tomato for the annual San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, says a Texas AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist.
"Traditionally, we offer a new tomato plant for sale every year during the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo,” says David Rodriguez, AgriLife Extension agent for horticulture, Bexar County. “Sales of those plants by our Master Gardeners help fund our Junior Master Gardener program and other countywide youth gardening activities, along with horticulture scholarships."
Rodeo tomato plants will be for sale throughout the run of the show, Feb. 9-26, at the Master Gardener booth in the Buckaroos on the Ranch: A Truly Texas Experience pavilion. The facility, formerly called the Texas Experience pavilion, is near Freeman Coliseum on the west side of the show grounds.
Rodriguez says last year experts from AgriLife Extension and volunteers from the agency's Bexar County Master Gardener association and the Garden Volunteers of South Texas, planted more than 4,500 tomato plants at Verstuyft Farms in south Bexar County.
“The BHN 602 variety was selected as this year’s rodeo tomato due to its superior production and quality characteristics,” he says. “It is a well-adapted plant that produces a large, rich, red, firm, succulent fruit.”
This year, the group planted mainly varieties which were expected to produce the large, round fruit indicative of fresh-market tomatoes, says Dr. Larry Stein, AgriLife Extension horticulturist at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Uvalde who oversaw the trials.
“Some of these varieties included SunStart, Sunshine, Bella Rosa, Applause and BHN 602 varieties,” Stein says. “They also planted some ‘grape-determinant’ varieties which produce a significantly smaller tomato.”
These annual tomato plantings are part of a research field trial to determine new adaptive tomato varieties that will grow well in this region, Rodriguez says. The rodeo tomato was selected from the various tomatoes tested and assessed during these trials.
“We’ve been working with AgriLife Extension on tomato trials for about 30 years,” says Tom Verstuyft, an owner-grower at Verstuyft Farms, which is located near Von Ormy. “We’ve been seeking the best tomatoes in terms of color, firmness, meatiness, sweetness and overall taste.”
The tomato plant is far and away the most popular for home vegetable gardeners, Rodriguez says.
“In these trials we put them to the test to find the one with the color, size, texture and flavor characteristics we know to be most appealing to home-gardeners and consumers in this region,” he says. “This year, BHN 602, which was originally developed at a research center in Florida, was the clear winner as this year’s rodeo tomato in that it adapted exceedingly well to the Texas climate and produced some exceptional quality fruit.”
Trials at Verstuyft Farms are conducted under Stein’s supervision.
"These trials primarily help us identify new commercial fresh-market tomato varieties to replace those we've lost due to seed manufacturers no longer producing the seed for those particular varieties," Stein says. "We test a number of new plants each year to determine which are best suited for this area and selected the rodeo tomato as the ‘best of the best’ tomato plants for use in home gardening. But our main objective is to help ensure a seed supply of well-suited tomato plants so area producers may continue to grow this popular crop.”
The multi-county Winter Garden area of South Texas is a known tomato-growing region and remains one the nation’s leading producers of winter vegetables grown using irrigation.
Rodriguez says that local green industry notable Peterson Brothers Wholesale Nursery, as well as Spring Creek Growers, a 100-year-old active farmstead in Magnolia, are both involved in the commercial production, distribution and sale of the rodeo tomato.
“In addition to the rodeo tomato, Master Gardeners will be selling the new Texas Superstar red-bluebonnet during the San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo,” he says. “This is a unique and beautiful version of our state flower, and it meets the stringent aesthetic and practical growing and care criteria required to earn the prestigious Superstar designation.”