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View from the Farm: Tomato Season Approaches

The 2012 tomato season promises some luscious new varieties

This week, we enjoyed a visit from the Concord Patch editor, Adalto Nascimento, who, we learned hails from Brazil by way of Walnut Creek. As he toured the farm and met everyone who has showed up in this column, we experienced first-hand the enthusiasm and zest that he brings to his job. Did you notice the cool photos he took in ?

Are all of you tomato aficionados rubbing your hands together with eagerness for the new season? At Buttercup Farms, we particularly look forward to the tomato crop. Homegrown heirloom tomatoes so represent two qualities that we cherish – authenticity and zest! Who that has ever tasted a tomato from the garden can ever question the contrast between that experience and the pallid, tasteless imitation vegetable purchased at the supermarket?

Our seedlings are now growing apace and we will be offering these tomato plants, along with a selection of other vegetables, on Earth Day (Sunday, April 22) at the Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church at 55 Eckley Lane in Walnut Creek. We are trying out some special new types this year, so why don’t you join us in some of the following adventuresome varieties?

Regular readers will recall that Gary, our head gardener extraordinaire, attended the National Heirloom Festival in Santa Rosa last year. He was excited to purchase seeds for the Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye, which won best tomato at the 2011 festival. Ten out of ten people liked its sweet rich flavor better than the popular Cherokee Purple in a farmers market taste off, so we will enjoy trying it this season.

Also new to us is the Japanese Black Trifele, which translates to truffle. Its fruit is a medium sized, juicy pear-shaped, deep purple-black tomato with pretty green shoulders. In Russia the Trifele varieties of tomatoes, which come in several colors, are highly prized. This Trifele is among the darkest hued and finest flavored of the black tomatoes.

We are also trying out the Granny Cantrell, grown by Lettie Cantrell since the 1940s. Lettie died in November 2005, at the age of 96. Her tomato is a large beefsteak that was voted best flavor at the 2010 Monticello Tomato Tasting Fall Festival.

Additionally, we are growing Green Zebra seedlings, the fruit of which have dark green and yellow stripes and are more tart than regular tomatoes. Another interesting tomato that we are growing for the first time is the Zapotec, which is highly pleated (or fluted) and can be stuffed and baked like a bell pepper or served raw.

Encouraged by our success with growing lettuce and broccoli in the geodesic dome greenhouse this winter, we have already started some tomatoes there, hoping to get a jump on the season. One of the new plants is the Black Seaman, a Russian heirloom.

In addition to these new varieties, we are continuing with several that we grew last year – Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, Striped German, and Black Cherry. All of the varieties that we grow are selected for their suitability to the East Contra Costa County climate.

Those of you who are keeping track of our Kickstarter campaign have noticed that we are approaching a successful conclusion this week. We are optimistic that we will soon be able to add 20 more raised beds and produce a much more abundant crop this year than in 2011. Thank you all for your support, and come see us at the Earth Day Sale!

Tom Wagner March 27, 2012 at 05:25 AM
Thanks for the post about tomatoes, especially the GREEN ZEBRA! Ever since I developed that variety (it has been stable for 40 years) I have marveled about diversity in tomatoes. My recent developments include stable lines from crosses of the Berkeley Tie Die, Black Seaman, Cherokee Purple and hundreds of other varieties. Too bad I can't get them grown for exhibition down your way. Tom Wagner I will be seeding my first tomatoes soon....Weather does not warm up enough till June here. Anyone wanting to contact me...thoswagner@yahoo.com
Jorie Hanson March 27, 2012 at 08:15 PM
Wow! How great to hear from the developer of the Green Zebra! We look forward to sharing it with our customers. What does it mean to have new crosses grown for exhibition? Maybe we can help? I'll be sure that Gary Crandall, Buttercup Farms' market gardener, reads your message. Jorie
Tom Wagner March 27, 2012 at 11:51 PM
Jone, As many of the heirloom tomatoes are great in their own right....sometimes a few crosses will offer unique solutions to those old lines. For example, better crack resistance, better flavor, new colors, distant shapes, and disease resistance...just to name a few. Berkeley Tie Die was crossed to create a hybrid and when the seed was saved for 5 consecutive generations I found a stable line that I called Join or Die. Some of the varieties I have created are on my website newworldcrops.com.

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