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growing tomatoes on the west coast: Celebrity

Bonnie Plants Station Manager and former New Hampshire Trial Garden Manager Deke Jackson tests tomatoes on the opposite side of the country.

Earlier this year, my family and I moved from New Hampshire to Watsonville, California. One of the things I most looked forward to this season was seeing how the tomatoes I grew back in Bonnie’s NH trial garden would perform out here on the West Coast.

The new garden is located about three miles inland, along the central coast of California. Those few miles really bring up the average temperature on any given day. Here at the garden, mornings are cool and foggy, with the sun usually coming out before noon. Afternoons are sunny and bright, with the temperature in the mid 70’s, and then the fog rolls back in for the evenings.

Before I planted the garden, I was told I could only grow cherry tomatoes out here, as larger tomatoes just won’t ripen because it’s too cool. Well, I needed to see for myself, so my family and I planted a whole spectrum of sizes and colors to trial.

We planted in early April and the tomatoes took off fast. The cherry tomatoes were the first to ripen, in late June. You can’t beat Husky Cherry Red for flavor, yield, or earliness. But they weren’t the only success story. Larger determinate varieties like Celebrity and Bush Goliath started producing in early July, and Early Girl was also, well, early, with lots of fruit by mid-July. Now that August has arrived, Black Krim, Lemon Boy, Big Beef, and Goliath are ready for picking. German Johnson, Red Beefsteak, and Pink Brandywine are on the brink of ripeness as well. Indigo Rose, with its beautiful, shiny purple-black, plum-sized fruit, isn’t quite ready yet, but is gorgeous to look at while it ripens.

Not only have I been able to grow all of these tomato varieties, but they’ve actually been easier to care for than in the old garden in NH. Without all the rain and high humidity, there has been less fungus to deal with. As an added bonus, we haven’t had to fight a single hornworm! One unexpected problem, though, has been sunburn: It turns out that even when it’s cool, fruit can still get scorched in the hot afternoon sun.

So it appears that the well-intentioned person who warned me not to plant anything but cherry tomatoes was somewhat misinformed – at least, when it comes to the inland trial garden.

When it comes to my home garden, though, they were on target. My apartment is right on the coast, and while the cherry tomatoes are doing great on the deck (they easily produce enough to satisfy both myself and my neighbors), the cool, wet wind won’t allow the larger tomatoes to set fruit. Still, I’ve discovered that if I bring a plant home from the trial garden with fruit already on it, the tomatoes will ripen. And as long as I have tomatoes right outside my door, I’m okay with that.

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