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Plant a tomato rainbow in your garden

  • Diane Lynch
  • It’s time to plant tomatoes, and the UC Marin Master Gardeners are making it easy for you.

    They’ve been nurturing 24 varieties, both heirloom and hybrid, grown from seed at the Falkirk Cultural Center Greenhouse in San Rafael and carefully chosen to meet the varied microclimate needs and tastes of Marin County gardeners.

    With colors from red, yellow and orange to green, blue and black, you may have trouble selecting just a few.

    From 9 a.m. to noon April 9 at Bon Air Center in Greenbrae and Pini Hardware in Novato, you will be able to buy as many tomatoes as your garden can hold. UC Marin Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer questions, help with tomato selection, and explain growth requirements and planting techniques. This is our largest fundraiser of the year.

    Selecting tomatoes to grow at home is driven by where you live (weather), what you plant in (ground or container), heirloom versus hybrids and days to maturity (choose shorter days to maturity for cooler areas).

    These considerations will give you maximum production and eating pleasure:

    • Your weather zone in Marin will determine how well tomatoes will grow for you. Warmer areas and full sunshine locations should be able to grow all varieties. If you’re in the cool areas of southern Marin, a breezy area or shortened days of sunshine, select varieties that thrive in cool climates and have shorter days to maturity. Cool climate tomatoes include: “Black Cherry,” “Black Krim,” “Celebrity,” “Fahrenheit Blues,” “Jetsetter,” “Oaxacan Jewel,” “Paul Robeson,” “Sun Gold” and “Sweet 100.”

    • Are you planting in the ground or containers? All varieties will do well planted in the ground or raised beds. Containers should be at least 5-gallon size; suitable possibilities include “Black Cherry,” “Black Krim,” “Celebrity,” “Cherokee Purple,” “Fahrenheit Blues,” “Sun Gold” and “Sweet 100.”

    • Heirloom versus hybrid? Heirlooms are open-pollinated and have considerable ancestry. If you save seeds for future planting you will get the same plant and fruit; they are valued for their unusual colors, shapes and taste. Hybrids are crossed from two or more parent plant varieties and bred for disease-resistance, higher-quality fruit or a specific growth habit. Plants grown from hybrid tomato seeds do not produce plants that are true to type. There will be 11 hybrids and 13 heirlooms for sale this year.

    • The “days to maturity” number that appears on tomato plants is usually measured from when the plant is planted into the ground. When you grow from seed add about six weeks to the estimated time to yield. There is almost nothing as satisfying to grow as tomatoes in the home garden. About two months after planting you’ll start seeing tomatoes forming and, if you choose the right varieties for your location, they’ll begin ripening shortly after that.

    Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable grown in the United States. With varieties like “Marvel Striped,” “Sunrise Bumblebee,” “Chef’s Choice Orange,” “Brandywine,” “Chianti Rose,” “Aunt Ruby’s German Green,” “Japanese Black Trifele” and “Blue Beauty,” the names alone tell the story of the wonderful world of color available this year. This is a great year to try out new varieties and add color — lots of it — to the garden and dinner plates in your home. There is hardly anything more satisfying than growing vegetables to feed the people you love.

    For the full varieties list, go to www.marinmg.org, call the help desk at 415-473-4204 or email HelpDesk@marinmg.org.