Well, usually you hear me talking about home values and the market here in Marin for home buyers and sellers. But today, for just once, I'm going (literally) afield. Tomatoes is the subject, and the fact that it's time to get them in and growing is what we'll chat about. As always, when spring calls around the Richmond household, two things pop into mind (at least for me): Baseball and Tomatoes. The former I can just sit back and enjoy, rooting my team along. The latter I get more deeply involved with. I spend a number of trips to nurseries and local farmers' markets searching for just the right plants to grow, followed by hours of planting tham and then regularly watering, trellising and feeding them so that in a few months, hopefully, I'll be buried in hundreds of tomatoes of all different sizes, colors and varieties.
Once frost is no longer a danger is when to plant. Here in southern Marin, we've had a fairly warm early spring, so all but the final two of my nine plants went in earlier in April, with the final pair hitting the turf last week. As far as varieties go, this can go either of two ways. If, like me, you've been planting tomatoes for a number of years, you likely have a few favorites that you get every year, possibly trying one or two new ones every so often. If, on the other hand, you're relatively new to the ritual, a brief education is in order. There are literally over 200 different varieties of tomato. Some are tiny, known as cherry tomatoes. Others are 'normal' size--between a half pound and a pound each, and are useful in any number of ways such as sauces and salads. Still others are much larger ranging from 2-4 pounds for each individual tomato. You've likely seen some of these at farmers' markets or upscale supermarkets. If huge is your thing, Brandywine is one of the ones to choose. They're 3-4 pounds in size and cover a variety of color. The biggest issue with these is that they are huge plants once fully grown (think Beanstalk), and require quite a bit of strong support to keep them up. A small tomato cage or trellis won't do the job.
Othe large species that are slightly smaller (1-2 pounds each) and won't require engineering feats to support include Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter (there's a whole story behind the name, but not now), and one of my favorites, German Johnson. Another personal favorite is a red and yellow multicolored fruit called Pineapple. It, too, is between 1-2 pounds and delicious!
Tomatoes also come in a variety of colors: red, yellow, striped combos, green (that's when ripe), 'purple' and 'black'. The latter covers a whole group that have origins in eastern Europe and Russia, having been developed for locales with short cool summers. They're not truly black, for the most part, but a dark shade of red and black mixed on their skin. They range from cherry versions to dinner sized ones, and some of the leading ones are Black Krim ( a personal favorite--very sweet); Black Prince and Black Cherry. I'm trying the latter as an addition this year, along with another new selection to my garden, a black from Japan called Black Trifle.
Plant the plants when they're still 2-4 inches high, using amendment to prepare the soil before planting and a good fertilizer at planting. After they're in the ground, use a regular (at least once weekly) good tomato food. There are many out there. I prefer Miracle Gro. Another good one is Jobe's. I usually feed weekly, giving each plant a half gallon of the food solution, right through the season until it's over and no more tomatoes will be coming up.
My final words: good luck and ENJOY!