Helpful Vegetable Growing Tips & Techniques
Love vegetables? Want to grow your own? Wondering how? Use these great tips from the UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County.
First discovered in the Andes more than two thousand years ago, the tomato was cultivated extensively by the Aztecs and then taken by Spanish explorers to Europe in the sixteenth century. Initially, it was thought to be poisonous because it was a member of the nightshade family. Italians were the first to discover its culinary prowess and introduce it into their cuisine. Once tomatoes caught on, they spread across Europe and adapted again and again to the climate and soil of each specific region.
Tomatoes come in a dazzling spectrum of colors, belying that aphorism that 'red' is synonymous with 'tomato'. Colors range from black, purple, pink, green, orange and even white to every shade of red imaginable. There are also spectacularly beautiful striped tomatoes like Big Rainbow and Chocolate Stripe.
Each tomato variety has its own unique taste. Some are sweet and fruity; others have rich, complex flavors, acidic and tangy. Tomatoes are the Queens of the veggie garden—nothing tastes better than a home-grown tomato!
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Plant Sale Tips
How do you decide which tomato variety to buy with so many one-of-a-kind heirloom and hybrid tomatoes to choose from? To make your choices easier, we've provided guidance in selecting exactly the right tomato variety for your taste and garden. Check out our So Many Choices! page.
Note: West County has cooler, foggy conditions. Choose shorter maturity cycle tomatoes, peppers and eggplants for planting in West County. That is, look for <75 days to harvest.
We've also got 10 Hot Tomato Picks that our UC Master Gardeners are offering up as their favorites. Check out which are our faves.
What's New in '22
What’s New in ’22? We are constantly updating our collection, based on our own experiences as gardeners as well as the latest information we hear from growers.
We're always on the look-out for new and exciting varieties to keep our collection fresh. There have been, for example, tremendous advances in hybrids that offer new disease-resistances without sacrificing any of that old-timey tomato flavor we all love.
This year we’ve added eleven new varieties to our collection. Here are a few highlights of the newest additions to our collection. After you read more about them, you’ll want them all!
Pink Tiger: A showy pink cherry with yellow-orange striping that will add color to any salad. Mix and match with some of the other artisan cherries in our collection for an amazing tomato salad.
Costoluto Fiorentino: A red heirloom from Florence with 12-16 ounce fruits that is early maturing for such a large fruit (75-80 days). While it’s outstanding fresh, it also makes wonderful Bolognese sauces.
Cuor di Bue: “Ox-Heart” is an Italian heart-shaped, meaty, pink heirloom with a delicious, sweet taste. Very popular in Italy where it’s used for both sauces and roasting. It’s a heavy producer even in cooler climes.
Enroza: The small (6-8 ounce), hybrid beefsteak with exceptional flavor, aroma and texture plus a variety of strong disease resistances makes Enroza one of Johnny’s Seeds favorites!
Gregori’s Altai: We thought it would be nice to add a pink slicer to our collection. But you’ll need to get out your Atlas for this one. It originated in the Altai Mountains along the Chinese border. An early producer (67 days) of 8-12 ounce pink-red tomatoes with a sweet, yet acidic flavor, it also has an incredibly long season.
Italian Red Pear: An old N. Italian variety that has become one of our favorites. Healthy, very productive, huge (8-18 ounce) fruits with a great taste—wow, an unbeatable combo!
Margold: A big, fat Slicer! Red-streaked yellow fruits are 7-10 ounces and hold well. Juicy? The juice will run down your chin! A Master Gardener raised it on his own last year and loved it. A single, disease-resistant plant produced 40 pounds of delicious tomatoes! Can’t beat that!
Aurora: From Siberia, an early (59! Days), heavy-producing tomato with two other welcome characteristics to recommend it: it’s compact and good for small spaces or containers; it also produces well in cooler climes. After all, it’s from Siberia! It also happens to have a rich, tomatoey flavor.
Fireworks: If you plant this in late April, you’ll have Fireworks by the 4th of July! Super-early (60 days)! Sweet, well-balanced flavor.
Ilse’s Yellow Latvian: 10-ounce yellow-orange tomatoes with a sweet flavor and meaty walls that makes it a great sauce tomato. Grows well in cooler growing regions.
Thorburn’s Terra-Cotta: Amaze your friends! Baker’s Creek calls this tomato “one of the most sensational tomatoes we have ever grown!” Introduced by the J.M. Thorburn & Co., it was the frontispiece for its 1893 catalog. No wonder! Its orange-pink flesh with green seed mass makes it a beautiful cut tomato and a work of art. But if you cook it, you’ll have a pumpkin-orange sauce with a floral aroma.