CORVALLIS - For 40 years, vegetable breeders at Oregon State University have been developing tomatoes well-suited to the cool summer nights of western Oregon and the short growing season in higher elevation areas of the state.
OSU horticulture professor emeritus Jim Baggett and his predecessor, W. A. Frazier, have bred many of the favorite tomatoes grown in Northwest gardens. Today Jim Myers continues the work, as the OSU Baggett-Frazier Professor of Vegetable Breeding.
The latest development from this active group of scientists is the Legend tomato, introduced last year. It is a large-fruited tomato that sets fruit under the cool maritime conditions of the Pacific Northwest.
Legend is similar to the previously released OSU tomato varieties "Siletz" and "Oregon Spring," but with considerably larger fruits that set somewhat earlier. Legend plants are strong, with larger stiffer leaves than the other two varieties.
As a bonus, Legend is resistant to late blight, a fungal disease that kills tomato plants in home and market gardens.
With mid-May planting, the first Legend fruits ripen in the Willamette Valley about Aug. 1, with an early peak of production and more uniform ripening than Siletz or Oregon Spring. The tomatoes are round, averaging about a half-pound each, but may reach or exceed a pound and up to four inches wide.
These and many other OSU-bred tomatoes are successful in Oregon's less-than-ideal tomato growing climate because most of them set fruit without requiring fertilization in the spring and early summer. These early tomatoes generally set very few seeds. When the weather warms later in the summer, fertilization takes place and the tomatoes will set seeds.
Some other "greatest hits" from the OSU tomato breeders include:
Willamette - Released in 1964 by W. A. Frazier. A crack-resistant variety; mid-maturity; became the standard in western Oregon for 15 years or more and is still grown.
Oregon Cherry - Released in 1978 by Baggett and Frazier. The flavor is tart, similar to that of F1 hybrid Small Fry, but Oregon Cherry is two weeks earlier. Some of the early fruit, about 5 percent of the total crop, are usually seedless.
Oregon 11 - Released in 1982, it is a very early tomato with first ripe fruit by July 15. Possibly 75 percent of the fruit are seedless. They tend to crack, but Oregon 11 is valuable to gardeners in very cool areas. Fruit are two inches in diameter maximum.
Gold Nugget - Released in 1983, it is a golden cherry tomato with the flavor of one of its parents, Yellow Plum. About 75 percent of the fruit is seedless. It is a prolific and early small plant, usually ripening first fruit by July 20.
Oregon Spring - Released in 1984. Large fruits ripen in early August. Oregon Spring fruit are not very firm but are useful for the local market. Some fruit can have large blossom scars (cat-faces) and grow up to 3.5 inches in diameter.
Santiam - Released in 1984 along with Oregon Spring. Like a small Oregon Spring with a smaller fruit and plant. Ripens about July 28, about 5 days before Oregon Spring, but some years it is at least 10 days earlier. Fruit are up to 3 inches in diameter.
Oregon Star - Released in 1992, it is like a very large paste tomato used for general purposes; most fruit are seedless and nearly solid. Shape varies from globular in the early fruit to plum shape in the main crop. The fruit weigh up to a pound, have good flavor and keep well if protected from rot. First ripening is about mid-August.
Saucy - Released in 1993, it is an early paste tomato on a compact, 36-inch-wide plant. First ripe fruit is usually by Aug. 10-15, sometimes earlier, with thick walls. Good keeper - fruit stores well on the plant.
Oroma - Released in 1993 with Saucy, it is similar to Saucy in first ripe date or slightly later, but the overall crop is later. Fruit slightly larger and more pear-shaped. Plant spread is about four to four-and-a-half feet. Keeps well on the plant.
Siletz - Released in 1994, it is similar to Oregon Spring but earlier with larger fruit, better flavor.