Some of you may know this… some of you may have guessed this… but I am crazy about tomatoes! I grow them, eat them, cook them, can them, and give them away to my family and friends. I just can’t get enough of them. The beautiful colorful orbs actual give me joy to just look at and photograph them. In the fall I become sad when I am picking the last and final tomato, off my last and final tomato plant. You and I both know that we will not taste anything so fabulous until next summer when next year’s crop begins to produce. Yes, you can buy what looks like a tomato in the market…but you and I both know that it is not. What is sold in the market in the winter does not taste anything close to a sweet and juicy vine-ripened tomato in the heat of the summer. Those sad mealy orange looking fruits in the market are picked green in far away countries, such as Mexico and Chile, shipped to the US, go through customs, and then gassed with ethylene which forces the green tomato to finally turn red. Ethylene is a natural hormone that signals the tomato to turn red. All tomatoes plants go through this process while it is on the vine. But artificially gassing a green tomato after it is picked only turns the tomato red… it cannot develop the natural sugar nor change the texture of the tomato.
Every April I get excited… it is time to plant my vegetable garden and buy my tomato plants! I shop at a number of locations to find unique heirloom plants. In past years I have gone to Love Apple Farm’s Tomato Sale in Scotts Valley to buy my plants. They have a fantastic selection of over 100 heirloom varieties. This year, their sale goes from March 30th to June 30th. It is an awesome view to step into their greenhouse and see the immense expanse of tomato plants to choose from. Their tomato plant sale is in Scotts Valley and is always worth the trip. This year I bought my plants at the Santa Clara County Master Gardeners’ 19th Annual Spring Garden Market, which was held last weekend at History San Jose at Kelly Park.
This year my criterion for tomato selection was unique shapes, sizes, and colors. I purchased 16 plants…far more than a family of three could possibly eat! But I can’t help myself when shopping for tomato plants…. the choices are endless! I also get wrapped up in the shopping frenzy that one experiences at the tomato tables at the Master Gardeners’ sale. All of the other shoppers are equally as tomato crazed as I am… grabbing numerous plants and loading up their boxes, wagons, wheel barrels, and the like. And yes, there is a little bit of running and excitement involved! But it makes for a very fun event! More than a thousand vegetable gardening devotees come to this free event every year. It is a beautiful thing to witness!
All three of these photos have my friends in them. The photo directly above is my friends in the check out line. I think they had over 75 tomato plants!
This year, the Master Gardeners propagated 79 varieties of heirloom tomatoes that they classify into four groups: classic, beefsteak, cherry, and paste. Their seedlings are displayed on long tables in these categories. Master Gardeners also propagated more than a 100 varieties of peppers, as well as eggplant, herbs, and flowers. The plants are $3 each, which I believe is a good price for the quality of the organically raised plants and the enormous selection to choose from.
In addition, the Master Gardeners invite other related companies to participate in the event where they may set up booths and sell their products. These vendors range from nurseries, garden art, home chicken coops and bee keeping, CSA cooperatives, garden tools, etc., as well as there are Master Gardeners available for questions at their own booth.
This is Amie Frisch, Executive director of the non-profit organization Veggielution Community Farm which is located at Emma Prusch Farm in San Jose. Veggielution is a 6 acre community farm that grows vegetables with community volunteers and then shares the vegetables with the greater community through donations, their vegetable stand, and CSA.
So now I have all my plants at home and I need to plant them. First, I have to tell you, my dear husband adds chicken manure to my raised beds each year, which really adds a lot of nutrients to the soil. I use E. B. Stone Organics fertilizer 4-6-2 with each plant. This year I added a few dead fish heads and worm castings to the soil because Cynthia Sandberg, owner of Love Apple Farm, said it was a tried and true method that she does every year. Love Apple Farm is a gardening and cooking educational center located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Cynthia has a wonderful article that she wrote on her website called, How to Grow Better Tomatoes (see link below). The article covers soil health and prep, plant choice, care, soil amendments, feeding, and disease control. Throughout the tomato season, Love Apple Farm conducts one-day seminars on growing tomatoes, as well as seminars on other subjects. I attended a seminar on home cheese making. Great fun! Check out their website for a list of all their seminars. The farm at the center has a very large vegetable garden where they practice biodynamics. Love Apple Farm sells their vegetables to Manresa Restaurant in Los Gatos and at their farm stand in Scotts Valley. Manresa’s menu changes frequently to highlight the best products grown at Love Apple Farm, which they have an exclusive partnership with. Chef-Proprietor, David Kinch, owns Manresa Restaurant, which has been awarded 2 Michelin stars for excellence.
It is time… plant your vegetable garden. Get your children involved by taking them shopping to select the plants and seeds and then planting the garden together…make it an annual family event. If the kids are involved in the entire process I guarantee you they will eat their vegetables! Have fun!
Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County
California Master Gardener Handbook
Sold by the University of California
Love Apple Farm Tomato Sale
Love Apple Farm’s article How I Grow Better Tomato