NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — The year was 1968. Beehive hairdo’s were the rage, as were cars with lots of shiny chrome. New Jersey was lush with diners, drive-in movies and roadside farmstands. And the Jersey tomato reigned supreme.
In 1968, there were a number of ‘Jersey tomato’ varieties on the market — products of prior decades of breeding tasty, tangy tomatoes by food canning companies, Rutgers and seed companies, but many were prone to disease or cracking. That year, after eight long years of breeding a hardy tomato and testing it on New Jersey farms, Bernard Pollack, a vegetable breeder at Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, released the Ramapo tomato. An F1 hybrid, the Ramapo was disease-resistant, had vigorous plant growth and produced beautiful, crack-resistant, delicious tomatoes. As this was before the days of the internet, NJAES teamed up with the Vegetable Growers Association of New Jersey to distribute the seeds to home gardeners and small farmers. An announcement was placed in New Jersey newspapers, and the mail orders flowed in. The Ramapo was a hit.
The seed production and distribution was taken over by commercial seed companies and the Ramapo gained its place as a home gardeners’ favorite. Fast forward a few decades–times changed, and tomatoes changed. Seed companies were replacing old time varieties with newer varieties, some that would hold up to commercial shipping standards and were firmer. The Ramapo tomato disappeared from seed catalogs, leaving a lot of disappointed gardeners who searched for it in vain. Some of these gardeners reached out to NJAES asking for the Ramapo seeds, and Rutgers ag faculty complied and produced small batches to provide gardeners along the way.
The vegetable agents and specialists at Rutgers thought it would be a good idea to get the Ramapo on the market again, but searched in vain for a seed company to take on producing small batches of the hybrid tomato, which requires cross-pollinating two parent varieties. It wasn’t until 2007 that a connection was made with an overseas seed company that was willing to produce a few pounds of the Ramapo seed, and in 2008, 40 years after its original introduction, the Ramapo tomato was back on the market. Thus was launched Rutgers NJAES ‘Rediscover the Jersey Tomato’ program, and once again, the mail orders flowed in.
10 Years of Tasty Tomatoes
It’s been 10 years since the Rediscover the Jersey Tomato program began and since then, the program has added three more classic Jersey tomato varieties to its portfolio: Rutgers 250, Moreton and KC-146 tomatoes. Each of these varieties has been resurrected by Rutgers to maintain the availability of tomato varieties that were once grown by Jersey tomato growers, and to support Rutgers current breeding efforts of producing commercial varieties for farmers that not only produce well, but taste good too.
As we slowly merge into spring–not yet released from the cold blustery days of winter–we can long for the juicy tomatoes of summer. Rutgers has classic Jersey tomato seeds and home gardening information to help spring your garden into motion. Tomato seeds should be started indoors 6-8 weeks before the outdoor transplanting date (indoors: late March/early April; transplant around mid-May for Central NJ). To get your tomato seeds started, see the 2018 order form for Rutgers 250, Ramapo, Moreton and KC-146 tomatoes (PDF).
Here is a summary of each variety and since we’ve received many favorable comments over the past 10 years, we’ll share a sample of what fellow gardeners have to say:
Rutgers 250 tomato: ‘Your tomato seeds are the best tomato seeds ever. I have had only compliments on the tomatoes and never a complaint. The Rutgers 250 is a fantastic tomato.’ — GG, Pompton Lakes, N.J.
Rutgers 250 is the result from crossing the same parent varieties as the original ‘Rutgers’ tomato that was released by Rutgers NJAES in 1934. ‘Rutgers 250’ was selected for high fruit quality and flavor and has been named in honor of the University’s 250th anniversary in 2016.
Ramapo F1 Hybrid tomato: Named a Test Garden Favorite in 2009 by Organic Gardening Magazine: “Hats off to the breeders at Rutgers University for putting their energy and resources into a tomato just because it tastes good. In our Pennsylvania garden, the manageable-sized, healthy plants yielded medium-large, flawless red fruits. And yes, the taste was superb.’ — Organic Gardening Magazine, Emmaus, Pa.
Ramapo was developed at Rutgers NJAES and released in 1968. It was prized by gardeners for its great flavor, fruit quality, reliability and productivity. While Ramapo seed was unavailable for many years, Rutgers NJAES continued receiving requests for this popular tomato and eventually reintroduced Ramapo F-1 seeds in 2008.
Moreton F1 Hybrid tomato: ‘Moreton has produced as well as two of the most reliable tomato varieties for a desert climate. What is interesting is that now when the ‘heat is on’ here — near the 4th of July — the 3 Moreton plants are out-producing the 4 Celebrity plants. During the past two weeks we’ve been having typical 108-110 degree high temperatures with lows in the 60s-70s.’ — CR, Waddell, Ariz.
Moreton was Harris Seeds’ first F-1 hybrid, released in 1953 and one of the first hybrids grown by Jersey tomato growers. This early maturing, tasty variety was off the market and re-introduced in a cooperative effort by Harris and Rutgers. Moreton makes a good earlier maturing garden companion to Ramapo and KC-146.
KC-146 tomato: ‘That’s the taste I’ve been trying to find after all these years.’ — JM, Tennessee
KC-146 (also known as Campbell’s 146) was developed by Campbell’s Soup Company as a processing tomato and released in 1956. This variety was wilt and crack-resistant and better flavored than other processing types. It was eventually replaced with newer varieties with a more disease resistance. Campbell’s maintained the KC-146 stock as their flavor standard. We agree, this is one tasty tomato.
— Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station