Marin Master Gardeners
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Marin Master Gardeners

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All Kinds of Tomatoes

April 2, 2012
Martha Proctor

For its April 14 tomato market, the Marin Master Gardeners (MMG) have chosen 30 proven winners for Marin gardens! Ten of the varieties, new to the market this year, are exciting, exceptional tomatoes chosen for their superior taste and outstanding performance.

With the cooler summer weather experienced over the past two years, many gardeners have been disappointed with a less than ideal tomato harvest. As this is the market’s 7th year, the MMGs have carefully evaluated the performance of an exhaustive list of heirloom and hybrid tomatoes. With more than 2000 varieties of tomato worldwide and several other classifications to consider (e.g., determinant vs. indeterminate, cherry vs. beefsteak, etc) choosing the right tomato plants to meet your needs can be quite challenging. Given a warmer summer, the tomato varieties featured in this year’s market will go a long way to ensuring that any tomato you choose will perform well in the microclimate of your Marin garden.

Below is a profile of 10 exceptional new tomatoes featured in this year’s market. Each profile includes whether the tomato is 1. an heirloom or hybrid, 2. determinate (bush size which blooms in 4-6 weeks) or indeterminate (tall and bloom till frost), and 3. the number of days to maturity. Days to maturity is an important consideration: up to 65 days is classified as early, 66-79 days, mid-season and more than 80 days, late season. Inasmuch as tomatoes prefer day temperatures in the upper 70s or low 80s, growth and ripening of fruit are slowed by cool, cloudy weather. Thus, it is best for those in cooler microclimates/coastal areas to choose early maturing varieties; inland and warmer areas can better support mid-season and late maturing varieties.

Bloody Butcher - 55-60 days, indeterminate, heirloom. A highly prolific, early tomato which produces medium sized, perfectly round, blemish-free 1-2" deep-red skinned fruit. Fruits tend to ripen quickly, so this variety is excellent for growing in areas with shorter summers.

Cabernet - 60 days, indeterminate. Hybrid plant produces tremendous yields of very flavorful, small grape-like red tomatoes. One of the best-tasting, quality greenhouse varieties on the market.

Black and Brown Boar - 65-75 days, indeterminate, heirloom. Strong growing plant and heavy producer of 3-4 oz. fruit. Great flavor, dark earthy tones in this dark reddish, beautiful tomato with metallic green stripes.

Risentraube - 76-85 days, indeterminate, heirloom. This is probably the most popular small tomato with seed collectors. Plant produces extremely heavy yields of one inch, very flavorful, red cherry tomatoes, which grow in clusters of 20 to 40 tomatoes. Name translates to "Giant Bunch of Grapes." Grown by Pennsylvania Dutch as early as 1856.

Haley’s Purple Comet - 70-80 days, indeterminate, heirloom/open pollinated. One of the best-tasting tomatoes in San Diego trial gardens. Develops its best flavor in hot weather. A vigorous grower which produces abundant clusters of 2" almost round, dark purple, cherry tomatoes with green shoulders.

Chianti Rose - 78 days, indeterminate, open-pollinated, heirloom. An exceptional tomato which produces huge crops of 1-2 lb. gorgeous, rosy-pink, thin-skinned, succulent beefsteak tomatoes with a balanced, complex flavor.

Indigo Rose - 75 days, compact indeterminate, hybrid. The only tomato with high levels of anthocyanins, very powerful anti-oxidants. Green when unripe, purple-red when ripe, the 1-2 oz., cocktail-sized tomatoes have a delicious flavor with “plummy” overtones.

Blondekopfchen - 80 days, indeterminate, heirloom. Undoubtedly one of the best tasting cherry tomatoes. Deliciously sweet with a slight citrusy tart finish. A favorite snacking tomato and excellent choice for introducing tomatoes to kids who claim they don't like tomatoes. Plant produces clusters of 20-40 sweet, golden yellow, non-cracking, disease resistant tomatoes that grow well in most climates. The vines are large and sprawling, so need plenty of space.

Michael Pollan - 80-90 days, indeterminate, heirloom. An egg-shaped tomato with green stripes named after the Berkeley author. Very popular in taste tests plus the bloom is reported to be quite showy. "Michael Pollan” is possibly susceptible to Blossom End Rot; be sure to water evenly to prevent this problem.

Fantastic - 85 days, indeterminate, hybrid. The vigorous producer yields 3-5 inch delicious bright red, tomatoes with above average crack resistance. The most popular hybrid with its rich beefsteak flavor that Territorial Seed company sells. Does better if staked.

A healthy garden relies on an inter-connected system in which beneficial insects, worms, sun, shade, moisture, and soil each play an important part. An age-old method often used to enhance productivity is intercropping or companion planting. Although unproven by research, companion planting is the technique of planting crops with desirable characteristics in proximity to each other. Planting beneficial plants among your tomato plants can create habitat for beneficial insects, deter problem pests, and enrich your soil. When selecting your companion plants, consider what each plant adds or takes away from the soil and what affect the proximity of the plant or herb will have on the health and flavor of your tomatoes. For example, planting basil nearby is thought to repel whiteflies and hookworms plus it enhances growth and flavor. Marigolds planted near tomatoes can sometimes repel nematodes, tomato worm, slugs and other general pests. Nasturtium may deter aphids and ward off fungal diseases. Parsley attracts hoverflies, which feast on tomato pests. Adding a few carrots to your tomato bed assists neighboring plants as carrots draw nutrients from deeper in the soil.

Avoid planting tomatoes in a vegetable bed with brassicas (cabbage. cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts or kohlrabi), corn, or fennel as these plants inhibit tomato growth. Also noteworthy is the fact that plants in the Solanaceae family (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers) are all susceptible to early and late blight fungus.

Mark your calendar for April 14, the date of this year’s outstanding Marin Master Gardener (MMG) tomato market. The market will be held from 9:30 to 12:30 in two locations: at Pini Hardware, 1535 S. Novato Blvd, Nave Shopping Center, Novato and during the same time period at the Bon Air Center, just off highway 101 on Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae.

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