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Tomato Trials: from blue to grafted; what grew this summer.

August 24, 2011

Japanese Black Trifele grafted tomato plant produced a huge crop of 12-ounce heirloom fruits with terrific flavor, despite horrible growing conditions.

Credit: Doreen G. Howard
Your rating: None Average: 5 of 5 (4 votes)

In March, Tom Wagner, the tomato breeder who created Green Zebra, Banana Legs and more, sent me seeds for four blue, open-pollinated, tomatoes he’s stabilizing for market.

As I wrote in this blog last spring, I started plants from seed for Pansy Ap, Blue Bayou, Helsig Junction and Fahrenheit Blues and put them out in the garden June 10.

I’m excited about these tomatoes, as their blue pigment contains the same vitamins and anthocyanins found in blueberries.

Those antioxidants help to prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s.

Some of the cultivars have blue skin only, others have blue in their flesh. 

Blue tomatoes color quickly after setting their fruits.  You have to wait until all the green has turned to red or blue to pick.

Tomatoes and other warm season crops went in late due to a cold spring that lingered, tornado damage and torrential rains. The weather hasn’t been any better since. Extreme heat replaced the chill, and parched ground alternated with heavy rainfall. This summer was the ultimate test for the viability and performance of any tomato. Blight, rot, mildew and more have developed on all crops, including tomatoes.

I included two grafted tomatoes amongst the dozen I planted to test their ability to eliminate late blight. It’s been epidemic in the past two years. Big Beef was sent to me to trial by a plant company. The other, heirloom Japanese Black Trifele, I purchased from Territorial Seed. 

All tomatoes were planted alike, in full sun, fertile soil, caged, mulched with 6 inches of straw and spaced wide.

Tomato Seed Trial Results

Plants of the blue tomatoes have shown no disease, and they’ve set heavy crops. All fruits are small in size, from 3-inch salad types to cherries. They were bred that way by Wagner, as he used salad-sized tomatoes like Green Zebra as the parents.

Pansy Ap tomatoes have a robust, yet nuanced taste to them.  The bottoms of each fruit change from white to red when mature.

Pansy Ap, a 3-inch tomato, colored blue and ripened first. Skins were dark blue with white bottoms that turned to red when fully mature. Bursting with tomato taste and blushes of citrus and merlot, flavor was robust, yet nuanced.  Fahrenheit Blues, the cherry with blue skin and streaks of blue in its flesh, was sweet and robust. Cherries grew in long tresses for easy picking. 

Big Beef grafted tomato plant was disease-ridden from the beginning.  All tiny fruits aborted, as they were consumed by fungal diseases.

The two grafted tomatoes were polar opposites of each other. After six weeks in the ground, Big Beef looked like a flame-thrower had hosed it. The plant was stunted, all foliage was edged in black, tiny set tomatoes were covered with mold and plants were withering. Obviously, the grafted rootstock didn’t stop blight and other fungal diseases. Japanese Black Trifele was healthy, huge and loaded with fruit. Its rootstock obviously worked, giving the plant plenty of disease protection.

Japanese Black Trifele grafted tomato plant had no sign of disease, grew fast and set a huge crop of fruits.

I’ve harvested more than 70 fruits from Japanese Black Trifele, each averaging about 12 ounces. Flavor was intense, like most heirlooms. The black interior seed cavities are a bit strange looking, but they give the tomato its complexity. One tiny Big Beef fruit finally formed and is struggling to put on size.

See more about planting, growing, and harvesting tomatoes!

Did you try any new tomato seeds this season? What are your results? Please share your tomato experiences by posting below.

Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.

In stores now!

Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including


I've heard about GM

By Simon barton

I've heard about GM anthocyanin containing tomatoes. Would these be them ?

I know nothing about

By Doreen G. Howard

I know nothing about anthocyanins in GM tomatoes.  Sorry!  But, I will do some research.

I grow black krim, Cherokee

By keithash61

I grow black krim, Cherokee purple, and brandy wines these are my favorites. Last year I the the super soixs and these are some great tasting fruit I used the brandy wines for canning tomato sauce along with the black krim and Cherokee purple they made a great sauce. I used the souxis and romas for my salsa they held up great, any fruit green fruit that was left I pickled

That doesn't make sense.

By Ellen Pong

That doesn't make sense. Pansy Ap is a yellow tomato with antho shoulders, not a red tomato. You wrote that some of these have blue in their flesh. Currently the only tomato that has antho flesh is transgenic. The only antho in these tomatoes should be in the skin and MAYBE just under it. There could be other pigments giving a darker flesh, such as the red flesh RR with gfgf homozygous for retaining chlorophyll. You can see on Mr. Wagner's site that this is not a red fleshed tomato:

It may be that I have misunderstood what you have written, however, and I apologize if this is the case.

The seeds Tom Wagner gave me,

By Doreen G. Howard

The seeds Tom Wagner gave me, labled Pansy Ap, are red-fleshed as seen in the photo.  He also sent me a seed labled "Helsing Junction" that is yellowed-fleshed with anthro shoulders. 

Tomatillos-What is hardiness

By Angela D Bell

Tomatillos-What is hardiness in zone 7? I started all tomatoes late & have just started harvesting in September. I plan to pull up regular tomatoes & hang in garage before first early freeze(may be as soon as October 29th) Yet my tomatillos have paper shell formed with not much tomatillo inside yet. Could they possibly survive freezing temp if covered?

No, they won't survive.  Pull

By Doreen G. Howard

No, they won't survive.  Pull them up and hang them in the garage with your tomatoes.

can I grow grape tomatoes in

By Anonymous2

can I grow grape tomatoes in zone 5a or 5b?

Yes.  Set out transplants

By Doreen G. Howard

Yes.  Set out transplants after the last freeze like you would any tomato.


By gypsy judy

I grew Black Russians, and German greens from Seed Savers. I found the black tomatoes when I lived in California, but seems as though, Texans are slow to new varieties. My tomatoes have gone nuts with growing everywhere, but havent produced much. Drought. I am very interested in the Blue's, send me a link to purchase. We are gifted with a long growing season in Texas

Re: Tomatoes

By Doreen G. Howard

The blue tomatoes are not on the commercial market yet.  Expect them in about 2013.  However, if you follow the link in the first sentence of my blog, you can get more info from Tom Wagner, the breeder, about seed availability.  Yes, Texas is blessed with a long growing season.  Lived there for 21 years, and all the black tomato varieties colored deeper and richer than those I now grow in frigid IL-WI (Zone 4b).

Acid Content???

By sprmomof3

I have read the darker the tomatoe, the higher in acid content. This is a concern for people with Gout problems....I grow the yellow & pink tomatoes, which are low in acid for that reason.....what about this new variety you have?

Acid Content???

By sprmomof3

I have read the darker the tomatoe, the higher in acid content. This is a concern for people with Gout problems....I grow the yellow & pink tomatoes, which are low in acid for that reason.....what about this new variety you have?

Re: Acid Content???

By Doreen G. Howard

The blue tomatoes I've grown this season are NOT acidic.  Their taste is mild, a bit sweet, yet full of nuances such as citrus and salt.  The skin contains most of the blue pigment, and it's loaded with the same antioxidants contained in blueberries.

Big Beef & Japanese Black Trifele Grafted tomato plant

By mbjanerich@comc...

I ordered these two grafted plants from Territorial this year, and they are among the healthiest and most productive of all my tomato plants this year. They are absolutely covered in fruit, and the Big Beef have been ripening for weeks now. The Japanese Black Trifele are a bit slower in ripening. I wonder if your Big Beef was just sickly for some reason. My favorite tomato of all this season is my Amana Orange. It is a lovely, blemish- and crack-free orange beefsteak. Just so beautiful! This is a fun blog. Thank you for the new info about blue tomatoes. Never a dull moment!

Re: Big Beef & Japanese Black Trifele Grafted tomato plant

By Doreen G. Howard

My theory is that the Big Beef was contaminated with pathogens during the grafting process.  A link in the blog will take you to an explanation of the grafting procedure.  It states that pathogens can be introduced. 
I'm so happy you and other readers like the blog, and I will try to keep it relevent, lively and informative.

Tomato plants

By SherriLou

I live in the Northwest so I planted my tomatos in May. They are just now starting to ripen! I would love to try grafting but we just don't have the weather here for it. I know tomatos ripen at night but our weather has been so strange up here it is taking longer it seems. I love the blog!

Grafted Tomatoes and Green Ice

By aceemily

I, too, grew the grafted Big Beef and also the Koralik/Legend grafted plant from Territorial Seed Co. I was overwhelmed with both. No disease and prolific production. My other tomato plants have given up and I still have 20 odd tomatoes maturing on each plant. My mistake was planting them within 5 feet of each other. They overflowed my cages and are growing on top of each other. Both are still producing here in Frederick, Md. Since we weren't sure of the acid content, we did not can any. Instead, we have frozen and turned into sauce many pounds for the winter. This is one of the few new introductions in which the hype did not exceed reality.

I also grew a new variety from seed called Green Ice. It is a small, prolific salad type tomato. It has a mild taste and can be eaten when green or slightly yellow. Good for those that favor that size and flavor.

Re: Grafted Tomatoes and Green Ice

By Doreen G. Howard

I always grow Green Zebra and it never fails to produce a big, tasty crop.  Will have to try Green Ice.  Thanks for the tip!

Tomato growing

By Georgia Trathen

Boy, I wish we could have grown some tomatoes. With the extremely wet spring we had pretty much my whole garden failed. After the wet spring came the grasshoppers. End of garden.

Re: Tomato growing

By Doreen G. Howard

I had a wet and cold spring and wet summer, too.  That's why I was so impressed with the one grafted plant and the blue varieties.  No disease problems!

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