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Marin IJ Articles

Time for tomatoes

  • Dot Ingels
  • It is marvelous spring and the Marin Master Gardeners are busy dreaming in shades of red, orange, green, black and yellow. Our tomato market is just around the corner, April 8.

    It seems that if gardeners grow only one vegetable, it is often tomatoes. There is no secret why this is so. Once you have tasted a freshly picked, perfectly ripe tomato, you are hooked. Tomatoes could also be so popular because they have something to offer everyone. Sliced in a salad or on a sandwich is perfection. Sauce made from ripe-from-the-garden tomatoes can seriously not be compared to anything from a jar. Hot off the grill or stuffed, divine. The cherry varieties are so generous with their fruit that you can pop them in your mouth as you work in the garden and still have plenty to play with in the kitchen.

    Plant more than you need in summer. They can be roasted and frozen, dried and pickled, canned and made into juice. Sharing is encouraged.

    The tomato market is truly a labor of love (and lots of work). It takes about a year and begins with deciding which varieties to grow. Marin weather provides a smorgasbord of microclimates. We want to make sure that every Marin gardener is successful in growing tomatoes so we search and test varieties that will do well from the inland heat to the coast and everywhere in between. Some varieties are chosen for their ability to do well in containers. All varieties are carefully chosen for exceptional flavor and hearty growth habits.

    The growing home of the tomatoes is the vintage greenhouse at Falkirk Cultural Center in central San Rafael. Before the planting begins, the greenhouse is disinfected to prevent any soil or airborne disease. During the second week of March the seeds are sown in a rich, hand-mixed organic soil designed to nurture seeds and seedlings. The temperature and humidity of the greenhouse are carefully regulated and controlled. Hand watering is handled by a team. The thousands of plants are treated like the royalty they are.

    This year will feature 20 scrumptious heirlooms and hybrids. Heirlooms represent a bit of history, come in some fun shapes, varieties and colors. Hybrid tomatoes are generally more uniform in size and are prolific producers. Those we select are just as tasty as their heirloom relatives. We offer some well-known varieties as well as some that are difficult to find elsewhere. Try several. Try something new. Plant a variety of sizes, shapes and, definitely, colors.

    Check out the descriptions of all the varieties available this year in “Tomato Varieties – TM 2017” on the Marin Master Gardener website at marinmg.ucanr.edu. The site features a handy variety chart detailing the color of each variety and its characteristics. You will find which varieties do well in a container and which do well in the cool or the coast. It also tells days to maturity, determinate or indeterminate status and whether they are hybrid or heirloom.

    Marin Master Gardener advisors will be at the tomato market to help you choose your plants and tell you everything you need to know to plant, grow, water and make you an accomplished tomato grower. Come early for the best selection.