The spring rains are tapering off, the local area received some “previews” of the summer heat to come, and home gardeners’ thoughts are turning to…tomatoes. California’s capital city is nicknamed “Sacra-tomato” with good reason – tomatoes thrive here. The locals may not worship the tomato, but they certainly revere it.
While a “fruit” by botanical definition, the tomato was designated a “vegetable” by the Supreme Court in 1893. It originated in South America and was distributed throughout the world following the Spanish colonization of the Americas.
Thomas Jefferson grew tomatoes at Monticello. At that time, some thought tomatoes were poisonous (they aren’t). Urban legend says that, on a visit to Lynchburg, Jefferson terrified one of the locals when he paused to snack on a tomato on the steps of the Miller-Claytor house.
Good for you
Tomatoes are nutritious and low in calories. A medium-sized tomato boasts only 35 calories.
There is a tomato for every taste and culinary need.
Cherry and grape tomatoes are bite-sized for snacking and are a staple of summer salads.
Paste tomatoes are used for sauces, catsup, tomato paste, and canning.
Slicing tomatoes are the largest of all. Some of these “big boys” can weigh in at over two pounds. They are wonderful sliced and served on a plate, or on sandwiches and burgers.
So, it’s absolutely the right time to be thinking about getting Sacramento’s favorite summer vegetable into the garden.
Avid tomato enthusiasts started their plants from seed in late January and through February. If you started plants from seed, now is the time to begin gradually acclimating your plants to the outdoors.
If you got a late start in the garden, it’s not too late. Now through June is the ideal time to get young tomato plants into the ground. There are many tomato plants available at local nurseries and garden shops.
Each gardener, according to the UC Cooperative Extension Sacramento County office, has an opinion about the most reliable tomatoes to plant each spring. These opinions are based on flavor, yield and disease resistance.
Heirloom or hybrid?
Another factor to consider: heirloom vs. hybrid?
Heirloom tomato varieties are more than 50 years old and open-pollinated. Often, seeds are saved and passed down by generations of tomato growers. These seeds are even traded.
Hybrid tomato cultivars are newer. They were developed after 1950. Hybrids are the result of crossing different parents.
Pros and cons
Hybrid tomatoes have greater disease resistance and higher yields than heirloom tomatoes. The trade-off is that the flavor is not necessarily better than heirloom varieties.
Another factor to consider is nutritional value. A University of Texas study notes that nutritional value in supermarket tomatoes has dropped since 1950, when hybrid tomatoes began to enter the food supply.
“Emerging evidence suggests that when you select for yield, crops grow bigger and faster, but they don’t necessarily have the ability to make or uptake nutrients at the same, faster rate,” said Dr. Donald Davis, the leader of study wrote.
One positive factor for the home gardener is the ability to control the use of inorganic chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Keeping these chemicals out of your garden – and out of your food – will keep them out of your body.
Most of all, having these beauties in the home garden is a source of satisfaction. The ability to conveniently retrieve the freshest, tastiest tomatoes for your next backyard barbeque with friends and family surely rates as one of the unique advantages to living in this region.
Tomatoes that grow best in Sacramento County
UCCE Sacramento County Master Gardeners have had best results growing the following “tried-and-true” varieties in their home gardens and at the Fair Oaks Horticultural Center:
Black Cherry (black/brown – heirloom)
Green Grape (greenish yellow – heirloom)
Juliet (red – hybrid) Sweet 100 (red – hybrid)
Large Red Cherry (red – heirloom)
Sun Cherry (red – hybrid)
Sun Gold (yellow-orange – hybrid)
Sun Sugar (orange – hybrid)
Sweet Million (red – hybrid)
Fresh Salsa (red – hybrid)
Italian Gold (yellow-orange – hybrid)
Orange Banana (orange – heirloom)
Super Marzano (red – hybrid)
Heirloom Slicing Tomatoes
Abe Lincoln (red)
Amana Orange (yellow-orange)
Aunt Ruby’s German Green (green with yellow hints)
Caspian Pink (pink)
Cherokee Purple (purple/black)
Eva Purple Ball (dark pink)
Hawaiian Pineapple (yellow-orange)
Jaune Flamme (orange)
Julia Child (deep pink)
Kellogg’s Breakfast (orange)
Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom (yellow)
Marianna’s Peace (pink)
Mortgage Lifter (pink)
Omar’s Lebanese (pink)
Paul Robeson (black)
Redfield Beauty (pink)
Rose (deep pink)
Rose de Berne (pink)
Virginia Sweets (yellow with red stripes)
Hybrid Slicing Tomatoes
Better Boy (red)
Big Beef (red)
Brandy Boy (pink)
Dinner Plate (red)
Early Girl (red)
Lemon Boy (yellow)
Oregon Spring (red)
Park’s Whopper (red)
Super Fantastic (red)
Whopper VFN (red)