Sidebar: So Little Time, So Much to Do – I’m Dreaming of Tomatoes

Tomato AssortedThe Contra Costa Master Gardener Season begins on April 1st! With the kick-off of the season, our demonstration garden holds the annual Great Tomato Plant Sale. Almost 60 varieties of tomatoes from all across the world—Russia, Japan, Italy, Germany, Mexico and closer to home, Nebraska and Kentucky – are offered for sale.

Contra Costa Master Gardeners propagate these plants using only non-GMO seeds from open-pollinated varieties that breed true. Fellow Master Gardeners collect many of the seeds from their own gardens. Over 12,000 plants are propagated for the Sale. It is amazing.  Here’s a photo of just some of the seedlings:


I have my own garden to work in, so I didn’t volunteer for propagation, but have been working instead at the online publicity for the Sale.  After submitting promos to various community calendars, editing the CCMG newsletters and preparing submissions for the CCMG blog, I think I am suffering from computer fatigue.

Since my brain has ceased to function in any meaningful way at the moment, instead of writing an article for my blog, I thought I would share with you tips on selecting tomatoes courtesy of Our Garden:

There are so many wonderful varieties of tomatoes in all shapes, sizes and colors! Even if these varieties aren’t available at the nurseries near you, if you like/love tomatoes, you might find it worthwhile to look online. Because the growing locations are in Contra Costa, California, I’ve added Sunset and USDA zones for point of reference.

How Do You Decide in Only Five Minutes?

By Liz Rottger, CCMG

How do you decide which variety of Tomato to buy? First, you need to decide which variety will grow well in your location. Do you live in cooler location (Sunset 16/17; USDA 10a)? Or, in hot, dry East County (Sunset 14/15; USDA 9b)? Do you have limited space and want to grow tomatoes that grow well in containers? Are you intrigued by some of the new varieties being offered this year? Or, are you a dyed in-the-wool traditionalist and just want those large, juicy beefsteaks? Or, maybe you’re a pasta fan and want a freezer-full of homemade pasta sauce next winter.

For a successful tomato plant that will produce lots of wonderful fruits throughout the season, you need to think first about where you are planting it. Choose a variety that fits with your micro-climate and space requirements. Here are some varieties that fit the two major climate types in Contra Costa.

 For our Cooler Climes Buyers (Sunset Zones 16/17; USDA Zone 10a):

  • Legend—blight-resistant, well- adapted to cooler climes, it will be the earliest-maturing slicer in your garden.
  • Gold Nugget—developed at OSU–where else for cooler climes?—these ¾” golden cherries will mature in only 60 days, continue from early season ‘til frost and have a rich, sweet flavor.
  • Sophie’s Choice—in 65 days this slicer tomato is one of the earliest bearing varieties and produces large, flavorful fruits. It actually doesn’t like heat.
  • Stupice—a very cold-tolerant, disease-resistant and early tomato with delicious, 3-4 oz. fruits in clusters.

For Hot, Dry Climate Buyers, here are some varieties that need lots of heat (Sunset Zones 14/15; USDA Zone 9b):

  • Boxcar Willie—10-to-16 oz. tomatoes with a rich, sweet flavor and just a touch of acid for tanginess.
  • Hawaiian Pineapple—the name says it all, these large, yellow, 1-pound tomatoes are sweet and fruity.
  • Kellogg’s Breakfast—a classic, large orange beefsteak tomato weighing up to one pound.
  • San Marzano Gigante—a prolific, classic pasta tomato with enormous, meaty fruits.

Now, there are other considerations when buying tomatoes. You’ll want to think about what you want out of your tomato plant. Do you want a rich pasta sauce or a slicer for delicious BLTs or a ton of small cherries for the grandkids? To make your job a bit easier, we’ve made up a few shopping lists for different kinds of buyers: traditionalist, canning and sauce cooks, the avant-garde buyer and the gardener with little or no space. Here they are:

 Traditionalist Buyers, here are some of our trusted and much-loved stand-bys:

  • Bloody Butcher—with a name like that, you better be sensational and it is! High-yielding, dark red and delicious!
  • Brandywine Pink—one of American Classics, some consider the best tasting tomato ever.
  • Cherokee Purple—Pre-1890’s heirloom with a delicious, old-timey flavor.
  • Isis Candy—gorgeous bi-color cherry in heavy clusters, one of our personal favorites.
  • Mortgage Lifter— the legendary large (1-2 pounds!), tasty beefsteak on very productive, disease-resistant plants.
  • Sungold—positively luscious, apricot-orange cherries borne on beautiful, 15” long trusses. A visual eye-candy that you can actually eat in your garden!

For canning and sauce Aficionados, here are some very tasty plum tomatoes:

  •  Amish Paste—one of the largest sauce tomatoes, excellent flavor and tolerates cooler climes.
  • Opalka—a single tomato can make an entire rich tomato sauce, so meaty is its flesh.
  • Pompeii—very productive Italian plum tomato with rich, meaty flesh.
  • San Marzano—the most famous Italian sauce tomato with a thick, dry, almost seedless flesh.

For avant-garde Buyers looking for a new variety, here are some of the “New in 2015” varieties:

  •  Baylor Paste—so abundant that you’ll have a tough time just keeping up with picking this delicious paste tomato.
  • Czech’s Bush—masses of 4-8 oz. fruit clusters, coming on early and bearing long.
  • Sun Sugar—fruity-tasting orange cherry tomatoes which produce in beautiful clusters on vigorous vines.
  • Pomodoro Canestrino di Lucca—direct from Italy a classic pasta tomato that is also great in salads.

For our Buyers with a postage-stamp size yards, here are some varieties that you can squeeze in any sunny spot:

  •  Lizzano—ideal for hanging baskets and containers, a cherry with a non-stop harvest of 1” fruits, perfect for snacks and salads.
  • Nebraska Wedding—the best thing to come out of Nebraska since Dick Cavett, these 3-4” slicers are juicy with a well-balanced flavor.
  • Red Robin—a lovely dwarf cherry that can even be grown indoors on a sunny windowsill.
  • Superbush—bred specifically for small spaces, this tomato still has a big, old-fashioned tomato flavor.

Well, I hope that whets your appetite for growing Tomatoes.  Happy gardening –