Tomato Report: “Paragon F1”

K3150534 - -Paragon-, Solanum lycopersicum, Tomato

If there’s a poster child vegetable for why people of all walks of life choose to garden, it’s the tomato.  Although the rise of commercial hydroponic tomatoes has made grocery store tomatoes prettier than ever and somewhat better tasting than green-picked field grown tomatoes, for taste and texture they pale in comparison to virtually any homegrown tomato.  Homegrown, picked when red or nearly red and never, ever refrigerated is the gold standard for tomato flavor.

So what happens, I wondered, when you grow a commercial tomato variety under small scale conditions and pick them ripe?

About Paragon F1

Paragon F1 is a hybrid determinate, beefsteak tomato available (when in stock) from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  It is a prolific producer of meaty tomatoes consistently sized at about 3/4 pound each.  The tomatoes are fully round and look a lot like what you’d see in any grocery store.

Growth & Performance

Paragon is clearly aimed at greenhouse or trellis culture.  When young, the ends of the vines are remarkably flexible and can be moved, placed and tied with little danger of breakage. For home culture, this can be a draw-back.  Large, sturdy cages are needed, and early in the season the vines need a little help “climbing” the cage.  Checking vine tips and moving them only took a few minutes each week.

My plants had minimal suckering and only needed to be pruned up away from the ground.  They set fruit early in the season before the worse heat and humidity kicked in, and as they set fruit the vines stopped growing, as one would expect from a determinate variety.  Now that we’d reached mid July, those 6 plants have been producing in 15-20 pounds per day for the past two weeks.  Given the quantity of fruit left on the vines, I anticipate another 2-3 weeks of productive harvest.

K3150509 - -Paragon-, Solanum lycopersicum, Tomato
Late blight: it’s not pretty.

On the downside, this variety is not at all resistant to late blight.  While this is less of a concern with a determinate tomato than with a indeterminate that you want to continue producing until frost, blight can not only affect vines but cause tomatoes to rot early.  In Alabama, there’s not such thing as a blight-free garden, so resistance is highly desired.

Taste & Storage

Much like the appearance, the taste is fairly generic tomato, but much improved over store-bought varieties and even hydroponic tomatoes.  All of which, I believe, can be attributed to trying ripe harvesting.

“Generic tomato” is not a bad thing: flavor and characteristics that appeal to a wide range of palates is no mean achievement if you are growing for mixed eaters.  Generic beefsteak tomato is probably the #1 type grown in home gardens; these varieties are certainly the tomato transplants you see for sale most often from large growers like Bonnie Plants.

Plus, the ability of this tomato to hold at the orange nearly-ripe stage at room temperature without going bad is not only good for commercial growers, but it’s a great characteristic for canning and preserving when one might want dozens of pounds at once but doesn’t necessarily want to grow a large number of plants.

The Final Scoop

If you want complex flavor and appearance and are willing to put up with the low productivity and disease problems of most heirlooms, this is not the tomato variety for you.  But if you want lots of tomatoes that are just like the ones you’d buy — but better tasting — this is a good choice.

Pros:

  • Productive plants that are crack resistant
  • Produces mostly unblemished fruit of consistent size and quality
  • Balanced, meaty fruit.  Great for sandwiches & salads, or cooking and food preservation
  • Holds well at the orange stage in room temperature, ideal for collecting enough for a canning session, or for market growers

Cons:

  • Needs good support and early help taking advantage of it
  • Less resistant to late blight than even many heirlooms
  • Doesn’t have the complex, rich flavors that please tomato connoisseurs