If you plan on taking the plunge into vegetable gardening this spring, you are in good company. A recent National Gardening Association (NGA) survey found a 19 percent increase from last year in the number of United States households planning to grow their own edibles. I'll bet many of those households will grow tomatoes. There is a tomato for just about every garden and every gardener, from the novice who just wants to try his or her luck to the passionate tomato connoisseur.
On April 18 and 19, UCCE Marin Master Gardeners will sponsor its fourth annual tomato market featuring specially selected heirloom and hybrid tomato seedlings grown by volunteers. Proceeds from the sale will support the organization's garden education projects in Marin. This group of dedicated volunteers has been working throughout the late winter and early weeks of spring to plant and care for hundreds of seedlings at the greenhouse at College of Marin's Indian Valley Farm.
Tomatoes come in more shapes, colors and sizes than you can shake a trowel at. The varieties selected for the sale were chosen for
their adaptation to Marin microclimates and for their outstanding flavor. For descriptions of the 27 heirloom and hybrid tomato varieties offered at the sale, as well as growing tips and answers to frequently asked questions about tomatoes, go to http://cemarin.ucdavis.edu/Master_Gardener/Tomato_Market.htm. Shop early for best selection.
Fans of slicing tomatoes for burgers and sandwiches will want to try varieties such as Big Beef, Box Car Willie or Cherokee Purple. Serious kitchen gardeners who crave plum tomatoes for homemade pizza or pasta sauce might choose Black Prince, a Siberian native, or Opalka, an heirloom paste variety from Poland.
If you are an apartment dweller with no access to tillable land, or if you are simply pressed for space, consider planting one of the varieties recommended for container gardening, such as Bush Champion or Bush Early Girl.
Do you want nothing more than to grab a handful of cherry tomatoes each morning to brighten up a brown-bag lunch? Plant a Sun Gold, Sun Sugar or Juliet and look forward to a steady stream of constantly ripening marble-sized gems. The list of varieties includes many names that conjure images of faraway travel and exotic pedigrees, such as Oaxacan Jewel, Principe Borghese and Shady Lady.
The tomato market will feature heirloom and hybrid tomato varieties. What's the difference? Hybrid tomatoes are created for a particular purpose, such as disease resistance, color or shape, and are crossbred from two or more different plants. Hybrids do not produce reliable results from year to year with saved seeds, though.
If you were to try to grow plants from the previous year's saved hybrid tomato seeds, the resulting plants would revert back to the characteristics of one of the original parent plants. Heirlooms, on the other hand, are open-pollinated, and saved seeds, which are handed down through generations of growers, sustain the varieties. As well as for their ability to replicate the original plant, heirlooms are valued for their taste, unusual markings, color and unique shapes.
For many gardeners, the disease-resistant characteristics of many hybrid varieties are a worthy trade-off for not being able to grow plants from last year's seeds. Common tomato diseases in Marin County can wreak havoc on your crops. They include a fungal disease called verticilium wilt, which starts as a yellowing between the major veins of the leaves, and then moves throughout the plant to eventually cause whole leaves and stems to wither and die.
Fusarium wilt, a fungus that infects tomatoes only, turns one side of the plant or branch yellow and gradually spreads throughout, eventually killing the plant. Root knot nematodes are yet another risk to tomato crops. They are microscopic, eel-like roundworms that attack a wide range of common vegetables.
Tomato varieties that have been determined to be disease resistant to verticilium wilt, fusarium wilt and nematode attack are often marketed with V, F and N designations on their plant tags respectively.
If you are unsure about the history of the garden soil you will be planting in, or you just want to reduce the risk of losing crops to these diseases, you might consider trying one of the several disease-resistant varieties available for purchase at the April tomato market.
If you have never attempted vegetable gardening or you don't have any experience with tomato planting and care, don't let that stop you from giving tomatoes a try this year. Free expert growing advice is included with every sale.
IF YOU PLANT
- What: Organic Heirloom and Hybrid Tomato Market
- When/where: 9 a.m. to noon April 18 at Pini Ace Hardware, Nave Shopping Center, 1535 S. Novato Blvd., Novato; 9 a.m. to noon April 19 at Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross
- Admission: Free; plants cost $4 to $5
- Information: http://cemarin.ucdavis.edu/Master_Gardener/Tomato_Market.htm