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The Rutgers Tomato

An old favorite among growers is the tried and true Rutgers tomato. This plant is incredibly productive and produces big, beautifully red fruits with outstanding flavor. They have strong vines that produce a generous crop. The Rutgers tomato is so amazing that it’s been used as the parent in breeding a host of hybrid varieties.

Let’s explore this legendary tomato a little further.

Red tomatoes on vine similar to Rutgers tomatoes.

History of the Rutgers Tomato

In 1934, during the Great Depression, Lyman Schermerhorn, a vegetable breeder, first introduced the Rutgers tomato, named after the Rutgers University, where it was developed. In partnership with Campbell’s Soup, Schermerhorn picked the best plants from a wide cross-section starting in 1928 and for six years conducted extensive field tests until selecting the most superior selection — The Rutgers tomato.

Characteristics of the Rutgers Tomato

Some things that make the Rutgers tomato special include its resistance to cracking and various diseases. Plus, they yield a huge initial harvest followed by smaller flushes of fruits. The Rutgers tomato is an annual indeterminate heirloom plant.

Ripening Season

The fruit on Rutgers tomato plants matures early to mid-season or about 70-80 days after sowing indoors.

Tomato qualities

Rutgers tomatoes are large, globe-shaped, thin-walled with a meaty texture and glossy red skin.

Tomato size

These tomatoes weigh between 6-10 ounces.

Picked red tomatoes on a table.

Planting Zones

Rutgers tomatoes grow in USDA Zones 3-9. It’s best to sow your seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost. Indoor seed germination takes between 5-11 days. When transplanting outdoors, bury your plant 3/4 and ensure the top leaves are not touching the ground.

Size and Spacing

The Rutgers tomato plant grows between 68-80 inches. The spacing needed between plants is 36 inches. The spread is 32-54 inches.

Pollination

These tomatoes are open-pollinated, meaning seeds from the “mother” plant will produce seeds capable of producing the same tomatoes as the mother plant when sown. Tomatoes are also self-pollinating, meaning they don’t need other plants to reproduce. However, they still need the wind, birds, and bees to vibrate the flower at a specific frequency to release its pollen.

Closeup of tomato blossoms.

Plant Care

Tomato cages or staking is essential. Your plant will sprawl on the ground and produce smaller, fewer quality fruits. Plus, ground contact will make them more susceptible to diseases and pests. You’ll also want to consider good quality compost material to put around your plant, which will help it produce a lot more fruit.

You can check out this handy compost guide for more information about compost.

Sunlight

Your plant will require between 6-10 hours of direct sunlight every day. Sunlight is critical to ripening. However, intense direct sunlight during scorching days can harm your fruits and cause a condition called sunscald. This condition causes patches of greyish white discoloration on green or ripening tomatoes and impact flavor and leave fruits more vulnerable to diseases and pests. It may be best to shield plants using shade cloth, straw, or a lightweight screen to prevent over-exposure on scorching days.

You can also grow your plants upside down to shade your fruit. Here’s a guide that shows you how to grow your tomatoes upside down.

Rows of tomato plants in sunlight.

Soil

The ideal soil for Rutgers tomatoes is rich and well-drained with high concentrations of organic content. Tomatoes usually grow well in most soil types, with a pH level between 6.2 and 6.8. To test your soil’s pH and discover what nutrients are present or lacking, you’ll need to conduct a soil test. Here’s a great guide to show you how a soil test works.

Water

You want to make sure you water your plant at least once per day. Always water around the base of your plant, never on the leaves or the plant itself. The water on your leaves and plant can become a source of fungal growth and sunscald.

Fertilizer

Tomato plants are heavy feeders, so you want to have a fertilizer with an organic blend rich in potassium and phosphorous with moderate nitrogen levels. That said, the exact ratio will mostly depend on your soil test results. Many growers elect to go with a 10-10-10 blend if they are unsure of the NPK (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) ratio in their soil.

Pruning/Pinching

To prune your plant, you’ll snap off the “suckers” or stems that grow from where leaf stems connect to the main stem after they grow 2-4 inches long. Here is a fantastic video and guide that shows you the right way to prune your tomatoes plants.

Person's hand pinching a sucker on a tomato plant.

Disease

While Rutgers enjoys good disease resistance, they are susceptible to certain conditions such as Early blight, bacterial spec, and anthracnose. To learn more about tomato diseases, you can read this guide.

Pests

Your plants may resist many common diseases, but they are still vulnerable to certain pests such as birds, snails, grasshoppers, cutworms, hornworms, and various insects. Here’s a great guide with some fantastic strategies to help you counter these threats.

When to Harvest Rutgers Tomatoes

Most Rutgers crops are ready for harvest 70-80 days after first sowing the seeds indoors.

Common Uses For Rutgers Tomatoes

Rutgers is a versatile tomato that brings tremendous flavor to many meals and recipes. Here are just a few examples.

Closeup of tomato slices fanned out.

What Does This Tomato Taste Like?

Rutgers tomatoes have a delightfully sweet and pleasing flavor with low acidity and a medium to a high percentage of sugar. It’s somewhere between a tart JTD and sweet Marglobe tomato.

Cooking

This tomato is wonderful in many cooked soups, baked dishes, and stews.

Eating raw

Rutgers tomatoes are very flavorful and somewhat sweet and make great additions to salads or can be a great snack when eaten raw with a pinch of salt.

Tomato slices with salt and herbs.

Canning

Rutgers tomatoes were developed during the great depression when canning was very important. This is one reason why Campbell’s Soup commissioned Schermerhorn’s research. You can also find a great guide to canning tomatoes here.

Freezing

You can freeze tomatoes for cooked dishes like stews, soups, and other meals. However, they lose a lot of their flavor and texture when eaten raw after being frozen.

Drying

Rutgers tomatoes make fantastic seasoning when sun-dried. You can learn more about how to sun-dry your tomatoes in this guide.

Recipe Ideas

Overhead view of a tomato tart.

Heirloom Tomato and Plum Salad

Heirloom Tomato and Eggplant Gratin

Sausage and Heirloom Tomato Salad

Striped Bass Fish Tacos with Heirloom Tomato Salsa and Avocado

Heirloom Tomatoes Stuffed with Summer Succotash

Health Benefits of Rutgers Tomatoes

Rutger’s tomatoes are not just flavorful, but they also contain lots of healthy nutrients such as vitamins K and C, potassium, and folate. Plus, tomatoes are some of the best natural sources of lycopene, a potent antioxidant linked to reducing the risk of contracting heart disease and cancer. They are also a fantastic source of daily fiber and are a low-carb food.

Where to Buy Rutgers Tomato Plants or Seeds

Heirloom tomato seeds are widely available at many nurseries and retail outlets, or you can order them online on sites like Amazon. Rutgers tomato plants can be purchased at Nature Hills Nursery — visit their website to check for availability around the end of winter/early spring.

Where to Buy Rutgers Tomatoes

Display of red tomatoes.
Farmers markets provide opportunities to try hard-to-find tomato varieties.

Unfortunately, Rutgers tomatoes are no longer harvested commercially nationwide, although there may be a few markets where you can find them in local grocery stores. You may want to contact your local farmer’s market to see if they have any growers selling them.

A Final Word on the Rutgers Tomato

Closeup of red tomatoes on the vine.

The classic Rutger’s tomato is still a fruit beloved by many growers who know a good tomato. The plants generate a fantastic initial crop. The fruits are resilient against many diseases. Plus, they are ideal for those who love sweeter tomatoes. The Rutgers tomato proves that the classics never go out of style.

Have experience growing Rutgers tomatoes? Leave a tip or suggestion in the comments below! And to read about other tomato varieties, click this link for our other tomato-related blog posts.