Hero Image

Marin IJ Articles

Learn About Plants and More at the Tomato Market

  • Dot Zanotti Ingels
  • I ordered a salad at an upscale restaurant recently, and it came with the promised tomato. It was barely red and tasteless. Already, with the beginning of spring, I am ready to go out to my garden to pick a perfectly ripe, perfectly delicious homegrown tomato.

    The tomato is the favorite crop for home gardeners. For Marin gardeners, growing tomatoes can be a frustrating experience because they are really a tropical plant that prefers a long and warm season to do its best work. But tomatoes planted in healthy, well-prepared soil and in a protected, sunny spot can reward any gardener with a bounty whether you live in a fog belt or much warmer Novato.

    Tomato plants come with a label that suggests the number of days from the time you plant your seedlings until you can expect to eat your first ripe tomato. If you live in a fog or wind prone location, it is best to choose the earliest varieties that have a date less than 70 days from transplanting. In warmer parts of the county, you can have a good harvest with varieties that are labeled at 70 to 80 days from transplanting.

    Tomato tags also can be labeled with descriptions about how the plant will grow and bear fruit as well as information about its disease resistance.

    Determinate plants are somewhat bushy, grow to a given size (usually 3 to 5 feet) and bear most of their fruit in a four- to six-week period. Most early ripening and canning varieties are of the determinate type. Indeterminate plants continue to grow and bear fruit until fall frost. Cherry, pear, grape, globe (or slicing) and plum (or paste or roma) describe the shape, size and texture of the fruit.

    Heirloom varieties are open-pollinated and have some history of being grown. Heirloom seeds can be easily collected and will continue to show the traits of the original seed because this family of tomatoes almost always self-pollinate. Hybrid varieties are a cross between two distinctly different parents. Seeds grown from hybrid tomatoes will produce different plants — they will revert to one of their parent's characteristics and won't maintain the original hybrid traits.

    The Marin Master Gardeners are well into helping us with making our mouth-watering dreams come true this season. The seedlings for this year's Master Gardener Tomato Market on April 20 are already planted by us here in Marin and are thriving in local greenhouses.

    The Master Gardeners work hard to trial a variety of tomatoes to provide you with a selection that will give you proven choices for your particular microclimate. Each year, we collect information about our offerings and add new recommended varieties.

    This year, we have 22 choices for you. New varieties include "Aunt Ginny's Purple," "Black Cherry," "Flamme" and "Pork Chop." We have something for everyone. All are grown in accordance with organic principles, no chemicals have been used on our plants, and no GMO seeds are used. All are proven winners in Marin and are chosen for great taste and high production.

    Best of all, we will help you to be a successful tomato farmer. Start now to think about where the best planting site is at your home. Look for at least six hours of full sunlight a day not shaded by trees, fences or walls and away from lawn sprinklers. Tomatoes can very successfully be planted in large pots if your deck is your sunniest spot.

    Next, visit our website at www.marinmg.org and click on the home page link to tomatoes. There you will find the list of available varieties (with pictures and descriptions of length to maturity), tips for growing great tomatoes (such as preparing your soil), tomato terminology to demystify the labels, information for managing pests with garden good guys (aka beneficial insects) and information about tomato plant problems.

    Then, it is time to shop at the Master Gardener Tomato Market at Pini Ace Hardware in Novato and Bon Air Center in Greenbrae. Master Gardeners will be there to help you with any questions you may have. We also will ask you if you have any information about tomatoes you would like to share with us. You also can visit our website and click on the link to share with us about your tomatoes.