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.
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.
The fruit on Rutgers tomato plants matures early to mid-season or about 70-80 days after sowing indoors.
Rutgers tomatoes are large, globe-shaped, thin-walled with a meaty texture and glossy red skin.
These tomatoes weigh between 6-10 ounces.
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.
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.
The following sections will provide highlights about tomato care. For a complete guide on optimal tomato plant care, from planting to harvesting and storage, please check out our article on How To Grow Tomatoes: The Complete Guide For the Best Tomatoes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To learn how to determine what your tomatoes need and when they need it, consult our ultimate tomato fertilizer guide.
Pruning and pinching are a tomato care technique that can help your tomato put forth its best yield. But you need to know when to do this and what tomatoes need it. To help you with this, visit our pruning tomatoes guide.
While Rutgers enjoys good disease resistance, they are susceptible to certain conditions such as Early blight, bacterial spec, and anthracnose. To learn how to detect, treat, and take steps to prevent diseases, read our tomato diseases guide.
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. For information to help you spot, eliminate, and deter 15 different pests, visit our guide on common tomato pests.
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.
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.
This tomato is wonderful in many cooked soups, baked dishes, and stews.
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.
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.
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.
Rutgers tomatoes make fantastic seasoning when sun-dried. You can learn more about how to sun-dry your tomatoes in this guide.
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
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
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! Excited for more tomato content? Then visit our tomato page for growing tips, comprehensive guides, and tasty recipes!