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young girl with large containers of cherry tomatoes
Deke’s 10-year-old daughter Chloe is in charge of picking the cherry tomatoes. Her haul on this particular day? About 50 pounds, all headed for the local food shelter.

Bonnie Plants Field Representative and Trial Garden Manager Deke Jackson tells all about the tomatoes he’s growing in the New Hampshire Trial Garden.

We have been picking tomatoes for about four weeks now. No greenhouses for us, though—early-producing Bonnie varieties like Better Bush, Early Girl, and Patio are what give us the super-early edge. We are weeks ahead of field tomato harvests up here in the northeast.

Our first plant to produce full-sized tomatoes was Better Bush, while Sun Gold took honors as our first cherry tomato of the season. We donate the tomatoes we grow, and the food pantry sure was happy to see me. Let’s see how they feel later in August when I start showing up each week with 300 pounds of tomatoes.

I am often asked “What do you look for in your tomato trials?” In short, I look at both the plant and the fruit. With the plant, I look at its growth habit, foliage coverage, and disease resistance. With the fruit, I look at size, color, flavor, yield, skin thickness, crack resistance, flesh color, and meatiness of the fruit. Then, I compare all of these traits with similar varieties that are already in the Bonnie lineup. This year, we are looking at a total of about 90 varieties of tomatoes.

(I look at similar things in the peppers we grow. I’m a wimp when it comes to really hot peppers, though, so I always bring in some heat-loving friends to help me out with the tasting part.)

Various pests have taken up residence in the garden, as they do each summer. We’ve seen a few hornworms, so we’re now on the lookout for disappearing leaves. (If you let them, hornworms will eat until the branch is bare). Happily, a few of the worms already had white parasitic wasp eggs on them—biological insect control at work. (What more could you ask for?)

Deke Jackson standing in front of trial garden
Deke in his element.

Some of the pests are bigger. We seem to have a pesky woodchuck that has been sampling the watermelons. I got a “Have a Heart” critter cage to try to catch and relocate it, and am tempting the creature with some ripe Florida watermelon (since ours aren’t even ready yet). I have my fingers crossed that it will work because I am not wild about plan B.

Not all our animal visitors are bad, though. To my daughters’ delight, a song sparrow recently set up home in one of our tomato plants and promptly laid four tiny eggs!

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