Apr 6, 2024


Apr 6, 2024

Mark your calendars for Saturday, April 13, the UC Master Gardeners of Napa County annual tomato sale. The popular sale is as much a sign of spring as the first robin is. Seedlings will be available from 9 am until sold out, so arrive early to get the varieties you want. Bring cash or your checkbook, no credit cards, please. The address is 1710 Soscol Avenue in Napa, near the Central Valley Hardware.

All the seedlings have been grown organically by Napa County Master Gardeners. Some varieties were chosen because they were favorites from past sales. Other varieties are new to the sale this year. Review the options before you come so you can head straight for the varieties you want. You'll find the complete list here. Each tomato is photographed and described; you can almost taste them. I was introduced to ‘Kellogg's Breakfast' at last year's sale, and it became my new favorite.

The descriptions also indicate whether the variety is determinate or indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes stop growing at a certain height and then start producing fruit. Indeterminate types keep growing even after they start to bloom.

Tomatoes need support from a cage, trellis, or stake to keep the fruit off the ground. It's wise to put the support in place when you plant the tomato. I've grown some tomatoes so vigorously that I had to put a cage around a cage. Once they set fruit, tomato vines can get heavy, so be sure your supports are sturdy.

Even if you find the tomatoes of your dreams at the plant sale, don't rush home, and plant them. The soil is still too cold, and we could still get a frost. Wait to plant until the soil temperature reaches at least 60°F. I have a soil thermometer and I check the temperature at a depth of 3 to 4 inches. The soil is usually sufficiently warm by late April or early May.

By the time the soil is warm enough to plant, your tomatoes will have grown taller. Pinch off the lower leaves and plant the tomato so that only the top 3 to 4 inches is above ground. The seedling will form roots all along the buried stem. You can find detailed tomato planting instructions here, including directions on how to acclimate your seedlings to their new outdoor home.

Choose a sunny area for your tomatoes and do not plant them in the same spot you used last year. Tomatoes can carry soil-borne diseases like verticillium wilt. Rotating their location on a three-year cycle helps keep these diseases from getting established in your soil.

Once my tomatoes start to bloom, I walk around in the morning and evening and give the plants a shake. Tomato flowers have both male and female parts so they are self-pollinating but shaking them can help move the pollen from the stamen (the male part) to the stigma (the female part) of the plant. And thus, tomatoes are born. Bees will do this job for you, but I believe in using assisted reproduction to get more tomatoes to my table.

During the Master Gardener tomato sale, there will be several mini demonstrations: “Planting in Containers” at 9:30 am; “Companion Planting” at 10 am; “Tomato Problems” at 10:30 am; and “Dealing with Gophers” at 11 am. There will also be staffed booths focused on education, compost, soils, and Master Gardener recruitment.

One of the main tomato pests is the hornworm. When people first see this creature, they want to stomp on it or feed it to their chickens. I, however, encourage people to let these creatures survive. They don't eat that much.

When I see hornworms, I pick them off and put them in open garden soil with a large jug or container over them. Then I feed them a few tomato leaves every day. This is usually their last stage before digging themselves into the soil, pupating and emerging as a large sphinx moth. We don't often see these moths because they fly at night, but they are a pollinator.  And we need all the pollinators we can get.

So, make your tomato shopping list and bring it with you to the sale, where you'll find about 7,000 seedlings awaiting new homes.

Tomato Plant Sale: UC Master Gardeners of Napa County holds its annual tomato plant sale on Saturday, April 13, from 9 am until sold out, at 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Choose from 25 varieties grown by Napa County Master Gardeners. Plants are $5 each, cash or check only. Workshop: Join UC Master Gardeners of Napa County for “Growing Tomatoes” on Sunday, April 14, from 2 pm to 3 pm, via Zoom. We'll discuss types of tomato plants and how to care for them, including soil and watering needs, staking, pest prevention and more. Register to receive the Zoom link. Help Desk: The Master Gardener Help Desk is available to answer your garden questions on Mondays and Fridays from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the University of California Cooperative Extension Office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa. Or send your questions to Include your name, address, phone number and a brief description.