Ann Wright: From seed to shining seed
Nevada County Master Gardeners are busy planning and planting seeds for the upcoming spring plant sale in May. Tomatoes are included – lots of tomatoes.
Tomatoes are some of the most popular fruits grown in home gardens, and there is an abundant variety from which to choose. However, growing tomatoes is not without a few challenges. Planting disease-resistant varieties that are well-adapted to the local soil and climate helps offset some problems. To help home gardeners learn more about growing these bountiful plants, the Master Gardeners have a workshop happening today. “Totally Tomatoes” is being presented today from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Elks Lodge in Grass Valley, 109 South School Street.
The language of “tomato-speak” is almost as beautiful as the colorful fruit. Heirloom varieties suggest tradition, ancestry, color and form. Heirloom tomatoes are open pollinated, which means saved seeds produce fruit that is identical to the parent plant. Sometimes a bit tricky to grow, heirloom varieties are very flavorful – Brandywine and Cherokee Purple are two heirloom tomatoes. Hybrid tomatoes such as Celebrity and Early Girl, are a cross between two parents, where two different varieties are cross-pollinated, usually with human intervention.
Grape tomatoes are small, oval shaped berry-like fruit with firmer skin. Last season one of our favorites was Valentine, a grape tomato as lovely as the name suggests. Grape tomatoes are generally smaller than cherry tomatoes; there are many types of cherry tomatoes, which can be grown in a wide array of spaces. However, despite the small size of these taste sensations, some cherry tomato plants may grow to over six feet in height. Sun Gold and Jasper are two very flavorful cherry tomatoes.
Then there is the massive beefsteak tomato which is a type of its own, and may reach a sizeable two pounds. Slicers are generally round and uniform in shape, also known as a globe tomato. Slicing tomatoes include both heirloom and hybrid varieties. Midget patio or dwarf varieties are compact and well suited to container planting or hanging baskets. Plum is the description of paste or Roma tomatoes which are medium-to-small in size and shaped like red ovals. San Marzano are quite popular and grow well here. These have thicker walls and fewer seeds than some of the other varieties.
Tomatoes are also described as determinate or indeterminate based on the plant’s growth habit. Determinate or bush tomatoes generally grow more evenly and produce fruit within about four to six weeks. Indeterminate tomatoes produce vines that continue to grow and set fruit throughout the growing season. Many standard size tomatoes are indeterminate.
Once the selection of what to grow has been made, seed may be started indoors, about six to eight weeks before the last spring frost date. Keep in mind that the seedlings will require plenty of light – a sunny south window or supplemental grow lights will provide the needed light. Seed should be sown about ¼” and kept warm and evenly moist. A week to 10 days before planting outside, after the danger of frost has passed, the indoor-grown plants need to become acclimated, or hardened-off before transplanting. Exposing young plants to an increasing number of hours of outdoor light and temperatures ensures this hardening off period.
Today’s Totally Tomatoes workshop will provide more information and with practical demonstrations. Find out about:
—Selecting seed – whether hybrid or heirloom, and how to start tomato plants from seed.
—The best growing conditions here in the foothills for tomatoes including crop rotation.
—Different growing strategies for healthy tomatoes including using raised beds and how to space tomatoes.
—The importance of support structures such as cages or trellising.
—Pests and diseases that plague tomato plants.
—How to save seed from heirloom tomatoes.
The Master Gardeners will also share their favorite picks. Please join us for a preview to spring and learn all about tomatoes.
Other Master Gardener workshops coming this spring include “Waterwise Gardening” to be presented on March 16. “Functional Irrigation” is planned for March 23, and on March 30 join us for a very important workshop on “Firewise Landscaping: How to Protect Your Home.” All workshops in early spring are held at the Elks Lodge in Grass Valley, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. For more information visit http://www.ncmg.ucanr.org or call the Hotline at 530-273-0919. Additionally, Master Gardeners are in the office from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. each Tuesday and Thursday at the Veteran’s Hall, 255 South Auburn Street in Grass Valley.
Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.
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