By Denise Seghesio Levine, U.C. Master Gardener of Napa County
Grab a cup of your favorite beverage and a writing implement. Six thousand tomato seedlings, old and new favorites, will be looking for their “forever home” at the 7th Annual Master Gardener Tomato Sale starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 13. The sale location is 1710 Soscol Avenue, next to Central Valley Hardware, in Napa. For your perusing pleasure, I present this year's tomatoes.
If nothing says summer to you like a hearty red slice of beefsteak tomato gracing burgers and salad plates, consider Ball's Beefsteak. This variety yields hefty 8- to 12-ounce red globe-shaped fruit. Highly disease- and crack-resistant, Ball's is one of the earliest beefsteak varieties to ripen.
Better Boy ripens midseason and produces until frost, yielding tasty red tomatoes that can weigh up to one pound. Good disease resistance and classic flavor makes this one a trusted favorite.
If bigger is better in your view, try Giant Syrian. Meaty, heart-shaped tomatoes with a balanced sweet-tart flavor can reach three pounds each. If you live in a hot, humid part of the county, this variety could be a winner for you. It does need a strong cage.
Marianna's Peace is a new variety, a pinkish-red beefsteak producing fruit weighing one to two pounds that grow on vigorous vines. Master Gardeners who live up valley say this one does well in the hotter parts of our county.
Do you love beefsteak tomatoes but want to try something a little different? Black Krim, a deep brown-red Russian heirloom, starts out with brownish-green shoulders that darken as the fruit ripens. A smoky, rich flavor differentiates this tomato. Cherokee Purple's 8- to 12-ounce flattened globes are a favorite among heirloom tomato growers: dusky pink with dark shoulders and deep-flavored purple to green flesh.
Yellow-tomato lovers have two choices for beefsteak types this year. Kellogg's Breakfast produces beautiful one-pound yellow tomatoes with wonderful flavor that are gorgeous sliced, with golden juice and few seeds. I have grown Kellogg's for four years and plan to grow them again. Hess, a new German bi-color heirloom, produces one- to two-pound tomatoes in glorious yellow marbled with pink and red. The flavor is described as mild, sweet and delicious.
Many of you have grown Marvel Stripe, another bi-colored beefsteak, so you know it is flavorful, beautiful and large. Yet another beefsteak offering is Summer of Love. It has the wild pink and green coloring of Berkeley Tie-Dye, but this improved version produces more tomatoes earlier.
All beefsteak tomatoes are indeterminate, which means they keep growing throughout the season. These large plants need strong cages, staking or trellising.
If you can hardly wait for tomato season, try Bloody Butcher. With five to nine tomatoes per cluster, each weighing three to four ounces, Bloody Butcher has a rich heirloom flavor and is ready to harvest in eight weeks. Early Girl is another early-season winner, dependable and bountiful until frost. Crimson Carmello is a personal favorite. Bred in France, these round juicy four- to five-inch tomatoes taste just the way tomatoes should, with a perfect sugar-to-acid balance.
Chocolate Stripes is striking with beautiful mahogany flesh and green and red striping. The flavor is described as complex, rich and earthy, and it is reputed to produce a plentiful crop of three- to six-inch fruit. Green Zebra is a bright green to chartreuse slicing tomato with a zingy punch. Jaune Flamme (“yellow flame”) produces trusses of apricot-colored fruit suitable for eating fresh, roasting or drying.
Moving on to paste tomatoes, the meaty varieties for sauces and canning, meet Gladiator. It's a great tomato for the gardener with no garden. Small enough to grow in a container, Gladiator yields an abundance of eight-ounce fruit to keep your sauce and salsa needs at bay. Pompeii, another dependable Italian Roma variety, produces well in my garden with strong, disease- resistant plants. Its meaty tomatoes cook down to a rich, flavorful sauce and are equally good sliced in salad. San Marzano is the variety you pay extra for in tins at the grocery store. Why not grow them yourself this year for your own cucina italiana?
For cherry and grape tomatoes, consider Brad's Atomic Grape. The oval tomatoes ripen to olive-green, red, brown and blue when fully ripe and range in size from grape to plum. If you like different, this is a must. Barry's Crazy Cherry is a pale-yellow tomato with a tiny beak. Growing in clusters of up to 60 fruit and described as “mind boggling,” these sweet little tomatoes are keepers.
You might also want to try Blush, an elongated fruit that starts golden yellow and ripens with red stripes, for a striking addition to your summer salads. Sun Gold, an award-winning sweet and productive cherry tomato, is back at the sale again this year. Green Envy is a newcomer with one-inch translucent emerald-green fruit to enjoy raw, baked or sautéed. The lovely Rapunzel is back with her tresses bearing up to 40 tomatoes each. Finally, Super Sweet 100 vines are loaded with one-ounce sugary tomatoes that never make it to the kitchen at my house.
We'll see you at the Master Gardener tomato sale on Saturday, April 13, at 9 a.m. Come early and bring a box.
Workshop: UC Master Gardeners of Napa County will hold a workshop on “Growing Tomatoes” on Saturday, April 6, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. This workshop repeats on Sunday, April 7, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., at Yountville Community Center, 6516 Washington Street, Yountville. Join our experienced tomato growers for tips and tricks on cultivating perfect homegrown tomatoes. Learn the latest research on tomato cultivation and care, and discover new and heritage tomato varieties. You'll get all the information you need to grow delicious and beautiful tomatoes in your own large or small garden or in containers. Growing America's favorite garden fruit is not only fun and easy, but also the best way to acquire healthy food for you and your family. For Napa: Online registration (credit card only); Mail-in/Walk-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment). For Yountville: Registration or call 707-944-8712.
Demonstration Garden: UC Master Gardeners of Napa County have begun the process of re-establishing a demonstration garden in Napa Valley. For further developments, please visit the Demonstration Garden link on our website ( http://napamg.ucanr.edu/).
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County (http:/napamg.ucanr.edu) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.