If you are thinking of growing tomatoes this year, you have joined with many (millions?) of gardeners who have made tomatoes the most popular edible plant for home gardens.
There are many reasons for this popularity:
- Tomatoes are good for your diet. They are very good sources of flavonoids and desirable phytochemicals, and have anti-carcinogenic properties.
- Organically grown tomatoes (which the home gardener can ensure) are more nutritious. They might be smaller than conventionally grown tomatoes (not important) but they offer more vitamin C and phenolic content.
- Home grown tomatoes often have flavor that is superior to commercial varieties.
- Growing your own tomatoes also provides access to a wide range of heirloom varieties.
- Tomatoes are exceptionally versatile in the diet and in the kitchen.
- They quite possibly the easiest edible plant to grow (along with garlic).
Assuming you are inspired to try growing tomatoes in your garden, the first step, as usual, is plant selection. There are thousands of varieties to choose from. Many will thrive in the moderate climate of the Monterey Bay area, but here’s a short list of recommendation compiled by organic gardening expert Barbara Pleasant.
These selections are for the Pacific Northwest. Plant recommendations often are for the Pacific Northwest or the Southwest, leaving central coastal California somewhere in the middle, but the Monterey Bay area seems closest to the Pacific Northwest in terms of seasonal temperatures and sun exposure.
Slicer Tomatoes: ‘Early Girl’, ‘Beefsteak’, and ‘Stupice’, followed by ‘Big Beef’, ‘Cherokee Purple’, and ‘Willamette’.
Cherry Tomatoes: ‘Super Sweet 100’, ‘Sungold’, and ‘Sweet Million’, followed by ‘Black Cherry’ and ‘Gold Nugget’.
Paste/Canning: ‘Roma’, ‘San Marzano’, ‘Amish Paste’, followed by ‘Viva Italia’ and ‘Principe Borghese’.
Really Big Ones: ‘Brandywine’, ‘Beefsteak’, ‘Mortgage Lifter’, followed by ‘Early Girl,’ ‘Big Beef,’ ‘Goliath,’ and ‘Hillbilly’.
Saladette/Pear: ‘Yellow Pear’, ‘Stupice’, ‘Glacier’, then ‘Juliet’, and ‘Principe Borghese’.
Here are tips for growing a bounty of tasty tomatoes.
- Plant seedlings that you buy or grow yourself because transplants grow best.
- Plant in full sun about two feet apart, to provide access and airflow between plants.
- Provide good nutrients by adding compost to the soil, plus organic fertilizers, including sulfur and crushed eggshells.
- Pinch the lower leaves from the seedling and buy the stem so that the lowest leaves are just above the soil. Roots will grow from the leaf nodes so deep planting adds stability to the plant.
- Water for a couple days, then two inches of water per week. (Some people claim that withholding water after fruit set adds to the flavo of the fruit00r. Dry farming tomatoes in this way is most successful after ample winter rains…like this year!)
- As the plant grows, prune the smaller shoots, leaving four or five main branches. Support the plant with stakes or a tomato cage to keep the fruit off the ground and make harvesting easier.
This would be a good year to add to your tomato-growing experience and pleasure.
Your local garden center or grocery store might well have good seeds or seedlings for your garden. You could also explore these sources:
- Tomato Fest: A Mendocino County grower of heirloom tomatoes
- Love Apple Farm: Great varieties for sale at Ivy’s Porch, 5311 Scotts Valley Drive, Scotts Valley (to June 4), and San Francisco Flower & Garden Show (April 5-9)
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds: Mail order sources for seeds of tomatoes and many other edibles.
Enjoy growing tomatoes in your garden— and eating them anywhere.