MU's Bradford Research Center to host annual Tomato Festival

Sunday, August 23, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Tim Reinbott has been superintendent of MU's Bradford Research and Extension Center for nine years and likes the different varieties of tomatoes grown at the center. "Some I get because I like the way they look, " Reinbott said.

COLUMBIA — Speckled within a sea of leaves are flashes of red, purple, green, orange, yellow and even white.

It's not an art project. This is Tim Reinbott’s tomato and pepper patch at MU’s Bradford Research and Extension Center.

If you go

What: Fifth Annual Tomato Festival, sponsored by MU's Bradford Research and Extension Center

When: 4 to 7 p.m., Sept. 3

Where: Bradford Research and Extension Center, 4968 Rangeline Road, Columbia, MO 65201-8973

For information: Call 884-7945 or go to

These slowly ripening fruits and vegetables will be ready for tasting at the fifth annual Tomato Festival on Sept. 3 at the research center. Reinbott, the center’s superintendent, said there will be 68 tomato and 40 pepper varieties showcased at this year’s festival.

The event will feature all types of tomatoes, including modern hybrids — specifically cross-pollinated plants for desirable traits — and heirlooms, which are open-pollinated plants. Reinbott said that although the modern varieties have been bred to pack and ship well for distribution, they sacrifice the strong tomato taste common in the heirloom varieties.

Featured this year are several heirloom varieties, including the Pink Show Me, a variety started at MU, the Missouri Pink Love Apple and a Tlacolula, which is shaped like a big teardrop.

“Some I get because I like the way they look,” Reinbott said.

Growing conditions this year have been better than 2008.

“It was so cool last year that the tomatoes didn’t mature well, and some didn’t mature at all,” Reinbott said.

This year has been more normal.

“It was still cool," he said, "but there have been enough warm, sunny days to let them mature now.”

Making a grand return to the festival this year are the hot pepper varieties. Last year, only sweet peppers survived the growing season. Grilled hot peppers will be on hand for the brave to taste.

Tasters beware: The peppers are ranked, and bigger the number, the hotter the pepper.

“One guy who always comes is never satisfied – he always wants them hotter,” Reinbott said.

The festival will also have salsa available for tasting. Five area restaurants will have their recipes on hand for visitors to try.  Steven Kirk, an MU Extension horticulturist, will give a presentation on using these hot peppers in salsas to control the strength and flavor.

In addition to Kirk, four other experts will be presenting at the Tomato Festival this year.

San Jun Gu from Lincoln University will discuss plant grafting, the practice of combining a plant known for disease resistance with one known for good taste. Jim Quinn of MU Extension will cover weed control. Simeon Wright of the MU Plant Diagnostic Lab and David Trinklein, an MU plant science professor, are scheduled to present as well.

Reinbott said he plants the tomatoes and peppers late in the growing season so the ripe fruits peak in the fall. Because the festival is held in September, attendees can ask experts about problems they had in their gardens this year in preparation for the next season.

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