The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

Local Scene

August 1, 2013

Attack of the mutant tomatoes? Local Master Gardener grows funny-shaped fruit

PALESTINE — Anderson County Master Gardener Brenda Bess admits to having grown tomatoes all her life, but never one like the one she and her husband, Robert, harvested recently.

Almost as rare as the unicorn it apparently wanted to emulate, the Better Boy tomato sprouted an appendage that Bess likened to “a nose — and then with the creases, it just looks like a face! We were just so tickled when we found it.

“I grew up in the country and have grown gardens all my life, pretty much,” the Palestine resident continued. “But I’ve never, ever grown one like this before!”

Long time gardener, author and host of DIY Network’s “Garden Sense,” Walter Reeves, of Atlanta, Ga., cites Dr. Joe Kemble at Auburn University’s explanation of the phenomenon on his website, www.walterreeves.com.

“It is a physiological/genetic disorder,” Dr. Kemble stated on Reeves’ website. “With tomatoes, you can expect about one genetic mutation for every 1,000 plants. That’s actually a very high number. You might only see one or two fruit on an occasional plant. Older heirloom types are more susceptible.”

Another cause of Bess’s nosy tomato could be what tomato growers term “catfacing” — abnormal development that begins at the time of flowering, believed to be due, in part, to cool temperatures (less than 55 degrees) and cloudy weather at the time of flowering and fruit set.

“That’s one of the most important parts of growing a garden,” Bess admitted. “Making sure you get your plants in at the right time. Timing really is everything. You have to find that perfect line between the last frost and before the summer heat really sets in.”

She said it’s also important to shop locally when choosing plants for the garden and to network with other gardeners to keep abreast of the latest growing techniques. She got the plant responsible for the Jimmy Durante look-alike at Irongate Feed Store in Palestine in a six-pack of sproutlings in the spring.

“I’m a Master Gardener and the information we share with one another is invaluable,” she said.

Bess said her annual garden this year include okra, zucchini and yellow squash, green beans, turnip greens, dill, rosemary and blackberries and thus far, her other crops have all been normal.

According to the website, www.growtomatoes.com, tomatoes are one of the most common garden fruit grown in the country. Commercially, China is the larger producer, followed by United States, Turkey, India and Italy.

California accounts for 90 percent of the U.S. production and 35 percent of the world production. In the U.S., tomato fruit production has a farm value of over $2 billion and the average American consumes about 90 pounds of tomato as fruit and tomato-containing products.

So what became of Bess’s homegrown “Pinocchio?”

“We canned it,” she said with a laugh. “It was just so funny!”

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