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Home grown tomatoes are one of the biggest joys of summer.

I think many gardeners are having success growing them this year, and if not, there are ample roadside stands who are selling them. The Cooperative Extension Service is always trialing new varieties trying to help growers and home gardeners choose good varieties. This year, the tomato trial had 5 different varieties for trialing. I don’t know how many counties participated, but I know Pulaski County did. The Pulaski County Master Gardeners put their plants at the Gardens at the Vines, the demonstration garden out at the 4-H Center.

The plants are producing well and they are keeping excellent records on how much they are yielding. This past week they harvested some of each variety and put them to the taste test. Various groups and individuals were asked to blind taste test them, rate them, and then open up the secret envelope to find out which variety was which.

Kathy asked Beth and I to be two of the tasters, so we roped in Martha Ray to make a fun evening out of it. I brought the tomatoes, with plates, napkins and score sheets.

We kept our social distancing in place and didn’t take off the masks until we were seated and eating.

Some of the tomatoes were huge, well over a pound each. That wouldn’t be a great thing for me personally, since I am the only one in my household who eats fresh tomatoes.

I like a more medium size fruit. While they all looked good from the outside, none of them would be our choice at the market or in our gardens. Our unanimous favorite was Variety A which turned out to be Mountain Magic.

They were small—larger than a cherry tomato, but less than half the size of most of the others. I would actually buy these, but none of the others. The biggest surprise when we revealed the names was Celebrity. It was our 2nd favorite but had a mealy texture and not great flavor. Celebrity is a common variety sold for home gardeners. The others in order of preference were Phoenix, Red Defender and last place was Mountain Spring. I am not sure how or why Extension picked the varieties they did, but we all agreed that we wouldn’t plant any of them, nor buy them with the exception of Mountain Magic. Kathy said other taste-testers had very similar reactions. The tomatoes all had a firm outer texture and they do have good shelf life. I used all the remaining leftovers

several days later to make salsa—and they do make good salsa,

so they are good for something!

I drove out to look at the Gardens at the Vines.

The Pulaski County Master Gardeners are doing an amazing job, not just with the tomato trials, but the demonstration gardens looked great. They had cucumbers on a trellis,

a full bed of sweet potatoes,

and flowers,

herbs and fruit trees in addition to the vegetables.

(And no, there is nothing wrong with the non-blooming Pink Bubblegum Petunias--they are pruning half of them back at a time, because they are growing so large). These are such good gardeners, they can grow sunflowers in rocks!

MG volunteers across the state have still been working on their MG projects, just in a more limited way to deal with Covid. Too bad more people aren’t able to view their handywork. They are starting to do more work at the gardens and putting in more beds. This garden is just going to get better and better! Great job Master Gardeners!

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