Tomato Festival features new varieties, growing tips

FRESH OFF THE VINE: Growing tips, free tomato sandwiches and samples of yet-to-be-released varieties are all on the schedule for Henderson County's 14th annual Tomato Festival. Photo courtesy of Henderson County Tailgate Market
FRESH OFF THE VINE: Growing tips, free tomato sandwiches and samples of yet-to-be-released varieties are all on the schedule for Henderson County's 14th annual Tomato Festival. Photo courtesy of Henderson County Tailgate Market

In the words of Henderson County Extension Service agent Steve Pettis, “It’s never too late to learn how to grow good tomatoes.”

At Henderson County Tailgate Market’s 14th annual Tomato Festival on Saturday, Aug. 4, there will opportunities to learn some tomato-growing tricks as well as grab free tomato sandwiches and sample new varieties of the ubiquitous savory summer fruit.

“This is one of the best places to grow tomatoes in the world,” Pettis says. “Because of the altitude, we’re closer to the sun, and we have more sunny days on average. And the climate is great for tomatoes, too. It’s really mild, which tomatoes love.” Tomatoes stop producing fruit when temperatures get above 90 degrees, he adds, but will continue to grow until the first frost, which typically comes in November.

Master gardeners and agents from the Henderson County Extension Service will be on hand at the event to answer questions from growers. And Karen Blaedow, commercial vegetable and small-fruit agent with the extension agency, will offer samples of several tomato varieties so attendees can experience firsthand the differences in flavor and texture.

But guests won’t just be sampling the usual Brandywines and Beefsteaks. In addition to familiar varieties, the tasting will feature tomato breeds being developed by N.C. State University that have not yet been released to the public. “Last year, we focused on grape tomatoes,” says Blaedow. “We had four unknown varieties paired with Mountain Vineyard and Mountain Honey tomatoes.”

Taste testers will be able to weigh in on which varieties they like, she says, and their choices could have an impact. “People’s opinions matter to the breeders,” she says. “There’s a lot that goes into breeding new varieties — how well it battles disease, how high of a yield you can get … but taste matters, too.”

North Carolina is one of the top seven markets in the country for producing tomatoes, and about 700 of the 3,000 acres of tomatoes grown in North Carolina are in Henderson County. Recently, Lakeside Produce, based out of Ontario, Canada, announced its intent to open a tomato-growing operation in Western North Carolina, says Blaedow. “They plan to have 15 acres of greenhouse tomatoes in Mills River by November 2019,” she says. “The long-term plan is to grow a total of 45 acres of greenhouse tomatoes in Mills River. They chose Henderson County because of the climate — cool nights and sunny days make tomatoes more flavorful.”

WHAT: 14th annual Tomato Festival
WHERE: Henderson County Tailgate Market, 100 N. King St., Hendersonville. hendersoncountytaligatemarket.com
WHEN: 8 a.m.-noon Saturday, Aug. 4. Free.

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About Liz Carey
Liz Carey is a veteran reporter living and working in Upstate SC. For more than 20 years, Liz has covered everything from crooked politicians to quirky characters from Minnesota to Florida and everywhere in between. Currently, she works as a freelance writer. Her latest book, Hidden History of Anderson County, will be released in February 2018. Follow me @lizardcsc

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