Tomatoes are the quintessential summertime garden edible, but in addition to being delicious, they are very nutritious.
In Healdsburg, tomatoes can be planted from mid-April through end of June and will produce continuously until the end of October, or when night temperatures stay consistently below 50 degrees. The first harvest typically happens around 2 - 3 months after planting. This means that tomatoes are in peak season in mid-late summer and are readily available at farmer’s markets if you weren’t able to get your garden going in time.
Here are a few things to know when looking for your favorite tomato at the market or planning your spring garden next year:
Paste vs. Cutting vs. Cherry
Cherry tomatoes are the smallest (and generally sweeter) variety. Sungold is a popular choice here in Healdsburg, but if you are looking to try something new, we suggest Chocolate Cherry.
Paste tomatoes are most commonly used for making pasta sauces. They have less juice than most tomatoes and make a thicker sauce. The most common variety to be found at the grocery store is Roma, but we recommend growing San Marzano tomatoes for extra flavorful sauces.
Cutting tomatoes are the classic big tomatoes used for slicing, either in sandwiches or combined with basil and mozzarella in caprese.
Determinate vs. Indeterminate
Determinate just means that the tomato plant will have only one harvest. Indeterminates are better for our long growing season here in Healdsburg, as they will continuously produce until the cold weather sets in.
Heirloom vs. Hybrid
Heirloom tomatoes are pollinated naturally and hybrid tomatoes are crosses between two or more varietals. In general, heirlooms are more flavorful but hybrids can produce more.
Tastes are very personal and there is a great range between flavor (salty to sweet), color and size. A good guideline to use is that tomatoes rich in color (deep yellow, deep orange and purple/red) have more antioxidants than lighter tomatoes (white, pink and pastel shades), and generally more complex flavors. Two of our favorite varietals include Black Krim and Red Brandywine.
To optimize your tomato production in Sonoma County, you will want to find a spot that gets roughly 4-6 hours of full sun, or 8+ hours of filtered sun. In Healdsburg, we get a lot of sunlight, so it may be necessary to put a shade cloth up for the first month after planting to give your plants better production. If plants get too much sun, it will slow the growth of the plant and potentially limit the amount of tomatoes produced.
One thing to keep in mind is that when planting tomato plants, they will take a good amount of space and water. This is important as you plan the right companion plants to grow with them. In general, tomatoes grow nicely with basil, onion and chives, but can also grow very nicely with vining squashes, carrots and cucumbers. All of these plants have roughly the same watering requirements and can be used in so many different recipes together.
Produce from your garden makes any dish immediately taste better, so if you’re thinking of making a fresh pasta sauce, having your own garden lets you choose the perfect varietals. Make sure to plant paste tomatoes like the San Marzanos along with Genovese or Sweet basil. Another benefit of growing your own tomatoes is that you can also try tips like throwing in fresh tomato leaves to enhance the tomato flavor.
We are looking forward to sharing with you all of our tips on the next episode of the Social Garden. Eat Well. Garden Often.