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Marin IJ Articles

Tomato market features varieties that thrive in Marin

  • Jane Scurich
  • Just thinking about tomato season makes my mouth water! After months of tomato deprivation, or munching into tasteless, watery winter substitutes, I am so ready for a nice warm, locally grown succulent tomato! For me, a great tomato is one from my garden, picked perfectly ripe and probably enjoyed inches from the vine (confession: some tomatoes never make it into the house).

    UC Marin master gardeners offer an annual tomato market where you can secure Marin-grown tomato starts to plant in your own garden. This year the market will be at 9 a.m. April 7 at two locations. More than 2,700 plants will be available at Bon Air in Greenbrae and 1,700-plus at Pini Hardware in Novato, and are $4 each. Come early for the best selection.

    So, what’s so special about these tomato plants? Master gardeners collect feedback on the market varieties grown each year, and volunteers in various parts of the county also experiment with new varieties. Each September’s survey results help inform the varieties we will grow for market the following spring. Special consideration insures that those of us who live in cooler areas of the county have a selection of varieties that offer the very best opportunity for ripe tasty tomatoes. Varieties like ‘Green Zebra,’ ‘Jaune Flamme,’ and ‘Oaxacan Jewel’ and cherry tomatoes ‘Sun Gold’ and ‘Sweet 100’ can succeed in cooler areas of Marin. For those living in apartments, varieties that can thrive in containers are ‘Carmello,’ ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Chocolate Cherry’ and ‘Early Girl.’

    Of the five new varieties tested last year, only one made the cut — ‘Black and Brown Bear,’ a medium-sized hybrid with great, earthy tomato flavor and that performs well in cool microclimates. Overall, taste, productivity and disease resistance are the strongest considerations for this year’s market line-up.

    The tomato plant you select will have been seeded and nurtured in the Victorian greenhouse at Falkirk Cultural Center in San Rafael. Why is this important? These plants have been grown right here in Marin. They haven’t travelled in trucks from distant greenhouses. The varieties have been selected specifically to thrive in Marin County. The watering team carefully monitors the seedlings each and every day to insure they are never under or over-watered, haven’t wilted, and are disease-free.

    Master gardener tomato advisors will be available to assist you with your plant choice and detailed information on successful planting, watering and overall care. Here are some tipsin dvance:

    • Tomatoes need a minimum of six hours of sun per day

    • Space plants at least 2 feet apart

    • Minimum container size is 5 gallons

    • All our tomatoes will need sturdy cages and/or plant stakes fro support

    • Plant in soil that’s well-amended with compost

    • Water tomatoes when the top 2 inches of the soil is dry. Once plants set fruit, gradually decrease watering.

    Keep in mind: These plants have been lovingly grown and pampered by the UC Marin Master Gardeners in a protected greenhouse. Keep them in a sheltered location when you take them home. Bring them into the garden for a few hours each day, gradually extending the exposure time. Let plants become accustomed to your outdoor climate and allow the soil to warm up before you plant.

    Go to marinmg@ucanr.edu and click on the link to “The 2018 Tomato Market” to learn more about the varieties suitable for your particular Marin microclimate as well as extensive information on best practices for caring for your tomatoes from site selection through harvest.