Valley cat tomatoes: Another option for gardeners

Brownwood Bulletin
Scott Anderson

Gardeners now have another tomato option that provides characteristics worthy of being named a Texas Superstar plant.

Valley Cat tomatoes have been named a Texas Superstar for its resistance to nematodes and other diseases in addition to its heat tolerance and consistent season-long productivity of good, round, red fruit, said Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist, Larry Stein, Uvalde.

It is a consistent performer. Valley Cat doesn’t do well one year and then not so well the next year, and we like consistency around the state when it comes to Texas Superstar plants. So, this adds another edible option for our gardeners.

To be designated a Texas Superstar, a plant must perform well for growers throughout the state. Texas Superstars must also be easy to propagate, ensuring the plants are widely available and reasonably priced.

Get to know Valley Cat tomatoes

Valley Cat tomatoes are a medium-sized determinate plant that produces tomatoes with outstanding fruit quality, Stein said. It is an early to medium maturity variety that ripens to an attractive red color with excellent and consistent interior qualities as well as an outer firmness.

Tomatoes do continue to ripen after being picked and are typically harvested when they start to break, or change color, Stein said.

It’s most ideal to pick these tomatoes when they break because they will be as good in flavor as if they were left to ripen on the plant. Removing them from the plant and allowing them to ripen on the kitchen counter reduces the chances of birds, insects or other critters attacking the fruit.

Valley Cat tomatoes are perennial plants but are grown as an annual in Texas due to cold weather. They are determinant plants but can easily reach 4-5 feet tall and need caging or staking for support.

These vigorous plants typically produce 20 or more very plump, robust tomatoes and produce fruit throughout the growing season. Mature fruits weigh approximately 8 ounces and are typically about 4 inches across.

Plants have resistance to three nematodes, including root knot. In addition, they are resistant to fusarium wilt, grey leaf spot and verticillium wilt. Pest and disease resistance and tolerances provide gardeners with more options to grow tomatoes without worrying about certain plant-related problems.

Nematodes are becoming more abundant and becoming more of an issue for gardeners. We think gardeners are buying plants and introducing them to their gardens and that they are increasingly showing up. So, resistant and tolerant plants are a big positive for gardeners.

Planting and care

Valley Cat tomatoes can be planted in any soil that drains well. Full sun exposure is required for optimum fruit production. Home gardening and commercial yields have been quite good across Texas due to the plant’s heat tolerance.

It is best to plant Valley Cat tomatoes in spring. They can be planted in mid-summer for fall harvest, though white flies and viruses can hinder production.

Starter plants perform best when they are placed in larger containers to create a good root ball, Stein said.

We recommend taking 2-inch transplants and stepping them up to a gallon container to create a good root system. It gets them off to a better start.

Stein also suggests incorporating a 3-1-2 ratio fertilizer – three parts nitrogen, one part phosphorous and two parts potassium – into the soil at planting. Gardeners should then side-dress, or place fertilizer around the root system when plants show golf ball-sized fruit, though he warned against adding too much nitrogen as it can burn plants. Slow-release nitrogen can work as well.

Valley Cat joins Celebrity as a Texas Superstar tomato. Ornamental plants have gotten much of the focus in the past but given the rise in gardens and gardening across Texas, we felt it was important to highlight plants for food production and let people know they have some really good options out there.

Texas Superstar is a registered trademark owned by AgriLife Research, a state agency that is part of the Texas A&M University System. Plants are designated by the Texas Superstar executive board, which is made up of nine horticulturalists from AgriLife Research, AgriLife Extension and Texas Tech University.

Assess sheep's body condition

Proper management of body condition scores can positively impact economics behind your sheep flock.

Managing the body condition score of your sheep flock can help assess the animals’ nutritional and health status. For most livestock, a BCS can be assigned via visual examination; however, sheep’s wool can make that more difficult.

Assigning sheep a body condition score aids in estimating external fat stores, which can be used to identify nutritional and health status.

Reproductive efficiency is mainly determined by the animal’s nutrition, and ewes need greater levels of conditions during periods of nutritional stress, she says. A BCS evaluation can be done anytime an animal is being handled, but the sheep must be standing for proper assessment.

When assessing BCS, at least 10% to 20% of the flock should be given a BCS to accurately assess the average flock status.

Using an average BCS can help producers better care for any animals that may require additional nutrition or care.

How to assign scores

BCS is a subjective evaluation, performed by palpating between the vertebra and loin muscles between the last rib and hip bones. The first step is to find the spine between the last rib and in front of the hip bone.

You’ll follow the loin muscle down the sheep’s side to locate the transverse process and assess fat deposition and muscle fullness.

The transverse process should be easier to locate in thinner sheep. The loin muscle and fat cover will fill the palm of your hand, and pressure required to feel the transverse process will increase with greater condition.

Animals should be scored between 1 and 5, with:

1 being emaciated and skeletal

2 being thin

3 meaning average with some fat cover

4 being fat

5 meaning obese, with excess fat from brisket to tailhead

The need of the sheep may vary according to the life stage of the animal. A mature ewe with a single lamb should be between 2 and 4, depending on if they are breeding, lambing or weaning,” Quintana explains. A ram should be somewhere between 2 and 3 for optimal reproductive efficiency.

Managing a ram’s BCS will optimize breeding performance and semen quality, as over- or under-conditioned rams may fail to physically perform.

Perfect assignment of scores is less important than giving a relative score and keeping it consistent across your herd. “Determining the difference between a 3 and a 3.5 is less significant than recognizing the relative difference between a 2 and a 3.5.

Proper management of body condition score can increase economic efficiency and optimize productivity of the sheep flock. By assessing the nutrition and health status of your flock through BCS, producers can positively influence pregnancy rates and lamb survival.