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Friday, September 1, 2000

By Stephanie Kendrick



File photo
Terry Shintaku's Green Growers farm in Hauula
yields a rainbow of flavors from Green Zebras to
Main Pak reds and Melon Magic.



Top tomatoes
for isle gardens

Local farmers and retailers are responding to consumer demand for tomatoes that actually have flavor, resulting in a growing supply of tasty love apples in Hawaii stores.

But there's still nothing like fruit fresh from the garden.

The problem is, not all the tomato varieties available at garden shops or through seed catalogs are suited to local growing conditions.

For example, early harvest varieties are not a good choice for Hawaii gardens, according to Terry Shintaku, owner of Green Growers tomato farm in Hauula.

They are bred for a short growing season, so they come into heavy production quickly and then die.

"They don't seem to do too well in Hawaii," he said. "You can grow tomatoes all year long in Hawaii."

Shintaku prefers late season varieties, which are slower to come to harvest, but keep growing for a longer period of time.

"A tomato plant can last you a couple years if you take good care of it," he said.

Jan McEwen, educational specialist and urban horticulturist with the Urban Garden Center in Pearl City, said be wary of grabbing just any seed packet at the store.

"If they're going to get a mainland type tomato, it may do well, it may not."

So how do you know what to plant?

The University of Hawaii developed seven varieties designed to resist some of the common tomato diseases in Hawaii, according to McEwen. Seeds are available through the UH Seed Lab and seedlings can sometimes be found at local stores.

The UH tomatoes are all of the large, red, beef-steak type and were developed 10 to 20 years ago.

"They're pretty tasty and they're prolific," said Hector Valenzuela, extension vegetable specialist for the university. "Nowadays, heirloom varieties are very popular and those would fit into that category," he said.

Beyond the UH tomatoes, university seed specialist Richard Sakuoka said many of the tomato varieties from southern states do well here.

Kathy Oshiro, author of "Growing Vegetables in Hawaii: A How-to Guide for the Gardener," particularly likes Tropic and Floramerica, both from Florida.

But regardless of where the plants were developed, fruit flies are a problem for all large tomatoes in Hawaii, said McEwen. "The best method to combat this is to bag your young tomatoes with paper bags, plastic can cause rot, to prevent the fruit flies from laying their eggs in the tomatoes.

"Cherry tomatoes do not seem to have the fruit fly problem, and are easier to grow," she said.

Sakuoka agreed and said any of the cherry tomato varieties sold in local garden shops should do fine. (See below for a list of favorites.)

Erin Lee, who now owns a tomato farm in Waimea, Maui, grew up on Oahu and remembers Italian plum tomatoes doing well in the garden. "Those are generally good, flavorful.

"It's hard to say what will go well in Hawaii, because we have so many microclimates," she said. For example, the varieties she grows at Lokelani Gardens, 2,600 feet above sea level, are not likely to thrive in Honolulu.

Lee was also a fan of the cherry tomato. "Most people can grow good cherries if nothing else."

Growing patterns are another factor in choosing a tomato type.

Determinant, or bush tomatoes, have lower yields, according to Shintaku.

Indeterminant, or vine tomatoes, tend to be longer lasting and better suited to Hawaii, he said. But they are a little more work.

The UH hybrids with numbers in their names are indeterminant; the Anahu, Kewalo, and Healani are determinant.

For chef/gardeners who want to explore beyond the red and juicy, Shintaku also grows green and yellow tomatoes.

"The zebras are doing real good," he said. Those would be Green Zebras, grown from seeds imported from Ornamental Edibles in San Jose, Calif.

And the yellow he has had the most success with is Melon Magic. "The taste is really great," he said.

Ornamental Edibles sells seed packets to home gardeners for $2 each (plus shipping), call (408) 929-7333 or visit ornamentaledibles.com.

To find out whether a specific tomato variety is known to do well locally, call the Urban Garden Center's master gardeners at 453-6055. "If they don't know, they'll research it," said McEwen.

And if you have a favorite tomato you'd like to tell us about, get in touch through one of the methods below.


Best of the bunch

Big and red

Carnival
Better boy
Celebrity
From UH: N-5, N-52,
N-65, BWN-21, Anahu,
Kewalo and Healani

Cherry

Pixie
Red Cherry
Sweet Chelesea
Sweet One Hundreds
Sweet Million
Tiny Tim




Do It Electric!

Gardening Calendar in Do It Electric!

Stephanie Kendrick's gardening column runs Fridays in Today.
You can write her at the Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu 96802
or email skendrick@starbulletin.com



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