Although we love the taste, texture and beauty of heirloom tomatoes, we unfortunately are lucky if 1 out of every 10 plants makes any tomatoes each year. Therefore we have settled to the point where we are happy if we simply get enough heirlooms for a couple of tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches. Our ultimate enemy in the heirloom tomato battle is the tomato spotted wilt virus (tospovirus), which is spread by thrips.
Ever since the late 80s we cannot grow the old tomato varieties. The tomato spotted wilt virus is a very aggravating one. After carefully tending to the tomatoes day after day, I would walk out to the garden one day and they would all be wilted. They looked like they just needed water, but it was all over at that point. There is no cure for the virus and once a plant is infected, you might as well pull it up. Much research was done when the problem first arose, but the initial virus resistant varieties were lacking in flavor. As a result, many gardeners were still attempting to grow the heirlooms.
After giving up on tomatoes for a while, we started experimenting with the virus resistant ones a couple of years ago. We tried Amelia, Fletcher, Bella Rosa, Mountain Glory and Talladega varieties. Amelia was very virus resistant, but the flavor was not up to par in my opinion. The other four all performed well and had great taste. This year we will grow Bella Rosa (see photo) and a new variety called Tasti-Lee (www.tasti-lee.com). The Tasti-Lee variety was naturally developed by the University of Florida, and it is a vine-ripened variety that is supposed to bring significant improvements to flavor and health (50% more lycopene). We are excited about trying this new tomato variety and will share our results this summer. So if you’re having trouble growing tomatoes, try one of the virus resistant varieties. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.