Sow tomatoes, harvest a community
Arrived in early October, is there nothing better to do than step out into the backyard (or patio) for the last flavors of summer before the weather sets in? For many of us, the tomatoes in the garden are the summer gold of our garden. Families bond on the plantation in the spring. Kids have a natural snack all summer long with a cherry tomato plant. Meals are planned and dishes prepared around the bounty of our backyard of colorful orbs and globes. Our community of tomato growers in this region is quite large. The source and sources of our tomatoes also reflect the diversity of our community.
With us, the new calendar year also marks the beginning of the tomato cycle. Every New Year’s Day for decades, I would sit with my dad and peruse his collection of seed catalogs that had arrived in the mail the previous fall. We would sit at her kitchen table and plan for the glorious newcomers to her rack of tomatoes. He had old packets of seeds to inspect, all wrapped in a tired, crisp rubber band, and we were wondering if there were any good ones left. But the real joy was reading the catalog descriptions of the new tomatoes with the old man. Finally, we would pick a newbie or two, send our check, and our new year was underway. I always order tomato seeds every January 1st the same way and I think of my dad. The Sonomans have been buying tomato seeds from catalogs for at least a century, I think. Baker Heirloom Seeds in Petaluma is a great place to start the upcoming New Years Day.
David Laverine saves the seeds of his favorite tomatoes and exchanges the old seeds with his friends. Her year is marked by fall seed harvest dates at home and with friends. He says storing the seeds is very simple: “Just save a few seeds from the best tomatoes, or better yet the mutations, and then put them in a bowl until they ferment (when they are coated with a white film), which removes the natural coating, then just pass the mess through an open sieve and dry the seeds on a plate. It’s easy to save the seeds!
If you are interested there is the amazing Community Seed Exchange in Sevastopol with seed saving courses. We really shouldn’t be supporting the industrialized seed industry with its monopoly practices while our small community of seed rescuers is doing a civilization seed swap, right?
My ex, Bonne usually collects some fantastic and wonderful tomato plants every year at the annual Spring Garden Sale at the County’s Jail Industries Garden. The Sheriff’s Department set her up to help inmates gain life skills and professional boost and she gets a lot of fantastic heirloom varieties. One of the highlights of her year of gardening is Tomato Day at the prison nursery. Many of us collect tomato plants at our neighborhood farmer’s market in the spring. Others buy their plants from garden centers or grocery stores. There are so many sources of tomatoes in Sonoma County Gardens!
But what’s the best tomato to grow in Sonoma? There are so many choices. We had to find out, so we got the Tomato Farmer Gang together and had a super fun backyard tomato snack! Our 9 favorites (listed alphabetically) out of the 23 tomatoes we tasted that day were:
Amathyst Cream: Rich and creamy texture, with a bright melon tone and sweet acidity. These are bold, rich, and divine flavors in a little yellow and purple packaging. Producer – Bonne Posert.
Atlantic Sunset Grape: Orangey gold with a hint of purple on the shoulders, this is a small to medium sized grape tomato with layers of exciting and evolving flavors. Producer – Brenda Bee.
Tie Dye Berkeley: It’s a glorious slightly sour with lots of sweetness and a lemony tomato quality. Producer – Brenda Bee
Black Cherry: Dark brown to purplish. Spicy and delicious, sweet and super high tomato flavors on the mid-palate and good balance. Producer – Ryland
Brad’s Atomic Grape: Crimson with a striped purple color – an earthy nutty quality and a rich ripe melon / nectarine fruit quality with just a touch of acidity. Producer – Brenda Bee
Kellog’s Breakfast: Large bright yellow orb rich in delight. Bold and tangy acidity with good depth of acidity and a touch of herbaceous notes followed by a sweet / tangy aftertaste. Producer – Daniel Miles
Liz Candy: The darker striped tomato harvested late is an absolute winner. Superb full-bodied flavor with smooth, bright acidity and a lingering finish. A multi-layered fruitiness that is multidimensional. Producer – Brenda Bee.
Pearson: Vivid red globes of medium size. Glorious depth of flavor, grown from seed in Oakmont. It’s a spectacular, prolific, all-around tomato. Producer – Wendy Barton
Solar sugar: Small bright orange-yellow cherry tomato. A huge burst of sunshine, it literally tastes like the sun, with a lingering aftertaste of sweetness balanced with moderate acidity. Producer – Bonne Posert
Beyond the best tomato, we’ve learned something more this year:
Tomatoes can teach us a lesson. We all support each other and we support each other in families and social bubbles with caring posts and open cages much like our blossoming tomato garden. In this our tomato plot is pretty strong around Sonoma County. So many people take care of our community so well, and there is always room for another gardener, isn’t there? We stand and support each other as we search for the next glorious tomato to come.
Tasting panel: Ellen Grant, Heidi Haigis, Brenda Bee, Peter Posert, Mandy Masciarelli, Anne Kopache, David Laverine, Cindy Poirer.