03 May Tomato Hoarding is not a Crime
Many gardeners plan out their garden with precision, making sure they’ve given ample room for all the different vegetables they’d like to try. Carrots, beets, kohlrabi— whatever floats their boat—they’ve got everything staked out and planned and balanced out with their crops.
But me, I’m trying to cram in ONE MORE TOMATO PLANT.
Everything else is just window dressing.
Beans? Zucchini? Cucumbers? Sure, I’ve got those. But they’re like a garden appendix—they have a function, but I could live without them.
Can I excavate another bed somewhere? Anywhere? (can we say ‘roof garden’?)
Can I chop down a tree and get more light? Yes, yes I can.
Did this tree deserve this? Yes. And now I have room for another bed!
Is it possible to move the house over just a bit to get some more room? No?
You laugh, but I am dead serious about my obsession with tomatoes. There are so many varieties to choose from—how can I possibly choose if I only have room for 11 different kinds? 11! Life is so unfair.
So, first let me say that I am a little like a ‘car camper’ compared to a ‘backpacker’ when it comes to growing tomatoes. I know there are many hard-core gardeners out there who believe everything should be grown from seed. But when I camp, I really want a bathroom and a giant tent, and when I grow tomatoes, I want to work from plants, not seed. And I’ve been gardening long enough to be OK with that.
I would have taken a picture of the tent from the front, but it was just too big.
Why would I be so lazy, you ask?
- if I grow from seed I saved, odds are the plants won’t breed true because I grow my plants so close together. And I won’t know if I was successful until the tomatoes are ripe. TOO CHANCY. I grew up Baptist, and WE DON’T GAMBLE.
- I don’t have an inside area that has enough light to start indoors in the winter. Which means outside… which means possible frost or basic neglect.
Which brings me to:
- I really suck at keeping things in small 4-inch pots alive. I cannot be relied on to water regularly or make sure the cat doesn’t knock one over. I know I should try harder, but there comes a point when you have to choose your battles, and this isn’t going to be it.
Fortunately for me, I live in an amazing area where I can buy just about any tomato one could imagine. This year, I’m really excited about three new varieties I’m growing from local Napa/Solano tomato breeder, Wild Boar Farms. This exotic breeder has new varieties with names like “Berkeley Tie Dye, “Brad’s Atomic Grape” and “Lover’s Lunch”. The names alone make me want to swoon, but the actual fruit are shockingly spotted and striped and extremely delicious. And not hybrids or GMO either. This year I’m growing ‘Berkeley Pink Tie Dye’, ‘Berkeley Green Tie Dye’ and ‘Cosmic Eclipse’.
Cosmic Eclipse, Berkeley Tie Dye, Pink Berkeley Tie Dye. Images from Wild Boar Farms
Last year I grew ‘Michael Pollan’ (named after the famous food activist), ‘Red Boar’ and ‘Sweet Solano’. All were delicious and beautiful, so I’m looking forward to what is to come this year.
Michael Pollan, AAA Sweet Solano, Red Boar
I rounded out this season’s “Pitiful 11” with some old favorites and some new varieties:
Cherokee Purple: Always a staple in my garden every year. The flavor is truly fantastic.
Hawaiian Pineapple: New this year—we shall see if the recommendation was a good one.
Red Brandywine: Because I want to know what all the fuss is about. Is it really that good? Opinions? Right now the vine is massive and it is breaking my tomato cage. I’ve dubbed it “Goliath”.
Early Girl: Because like applying for college, we all need a ‘backup’ in case something goes wrong.
Roma: Husband makes killer roasted salsa. Say no more.
Tsunshigo Chinese: I bought this one at the Walnut Creek Great Tomato sale in the “dwarf” section. It is decidedly not.
Patio: I knew I could squeeze one more variety in if I could put it in a pot. Honestly, this one is just for sheer numbers.
Sun Sugar: I usually grow Sun Gold, so I thought I’d try something else this year. But it is also orange, sweet and reliable Like Sun Gold, so I’m not really taking chances with this one, I know.
Purple Cherokee, Tsunshigo Chinese, Hawaiian Pineapple
But I’ve finally acknowledged that the ultimate goal of all this tomato growing is to make the ultimate tomato salad with every color I can think of. I spend all season growing ‘Red Rubin’ Basil and green ‘Sweet’ Basil to mix in, and the more colors of tomatoes I grow, the more the salad looks like a beautiful work of art. I think I’m finally ready to admit that all this gardening effort is just to create a visually balanced salad. I am such a former art major.
What are your favorites?
My Local East Bay sources for amazing tomatoes:
(AKA tomato pickup spots)
Orchard Nursery and Florist in Lafayette: Expensive but worth it. And they get the full complement of Wild Boar Farms tomato varieties—but call first to see if they’ve come in. I visited too early this year and had to go back the following week when the shipment arrived.
Ace Garden Center in Oakland: Yes, it is a regular Ace, but their buyer is really good. You can find some really interesting vegetable starts, but find out when the shipments come in because otherwise they will be GONE. I went looking for a Lemon cucumber this year (See? I grow other things!) and was greeted by completely empty shelves. It was like there was a hurricane warning and everyone decided that 4-inch veggies were the way to weather it.
Master Gardener’s Great Tomato Sale in Walnut Creek, Richmond, and Antioch (check website for location, dates and exact inventory). Go early on the first day, bring your own box, and prepare to stand in a huge line—like a concert—to get in. It is a fun gardening community thing, but I’m still debating whether or not it is worth it to wait in a massive line. They do have some great tomato, pepper and melon varieties to choose from, however. You decide.
Annie’s Annuals in Richmond: You should go here anyway, even if you don’t need tomatoes. It is like Mecca for Gardeners. Seriously. Go, and you will thank me. It is HUGE and they have every flower you could ever want. They have every flower you didn’t even know you wanted.
The Seed Bank in Petaluma: Another religious experience for seed hoarders. They have unique seed varieties and knowledgeable staff. (check website for actual plant availability and store hours—they keep odd hours)
Where’s your favorite tomato pick up spot?