Tomato breeding program tastes of success Editor's Note: This is the Field Notes column, written by editor Vicky Boyd and published in the November-December 2011 issue of Citrus + Vegetable Magazine.

I admit I’m spoiled. I can go out to my garden much of the year and pick truly vine-ripe red tomatoes.

But not everybody has that luxury nor do they want to mess with a home garden.

Thanks to the University of Florida’s tomato breeding program and breeder Jay Scott, a lot more consumers will have access to that home-grown flavor.

It took 10 years using conventional breeding techniques to develop a truly tasty tomato, and it wasn’t easy. Many of the flavor attributes were tied to undesirable traits, so the trick was keeping the taste and getting rid of the unwanted characteristics.

The result is Tasti-Lee, a tomato that never sees ethylene gas. Yet it’s deep red and has a flavor very similar to home grown fruit and has 25 percent to 40 percent more lycopene, a plant-based nutrient with health benefits.

Tasti-Lee has a long shelf life, a firm feel and holds up well during shipping and display. But the mouth feel is softer, more like home grown and less like mature greens or vine ripes that tend to be slightly crunchy.

One bite and the flavors explode in your mouth.

Publix Supermarkets in five southeastern states will handle the variety.

Already it’s creating a stir. Scott says he continues to receive e-mails from consumers wondering where they can buy the Tasti-Lee.

Home gardeners also want to know where they can buy some seed.

Bejo Seeds Inc. is the exclusive distributor and also sells them in smalerl packs through Twilly Seeds and Tomato Supply Catalog.

The next step for Scott and fellow breeder Sam Hutton will be to incorporate disease resistance into Tasti Lee.

“We want to make sure when we get the disease-resistance genes in that we don’t wreck anything with the flavor,” Scott says.

He also wants to ensure that the current production quality standards aren’t eroded as acreage ramps up.

Let’s hope those standards remain. If not, then the Tasti-Lee may fade into the crowd as just another round variety.

See related articles:

Vine-ripe Tasti-Lee tomato creates a buzz among consumers (includes video)

New variety stokes interest in Florida tomatoes