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Help Settle the Great Tomato Debate

The Windsor Garden Club is trying to solve The Great Tomato Debate: what’s the best backyard tomato to grow in this town? And what’s the worst?

If you’ve got an opinion, and if you’ve got a named tomato variety from your garden, you’re invited to the Town Green Community Garden on the remaining September Sundays (Sept. 17 and Sept. 24) from noon till 2 p.m. to help settle the debate.

Bring your opinions and tomatoes to slice, share and taste with other backyard gardeners. In addition to meeting some WGC members and some other very nice people who grow tomatoes in and around Windsor, you’ll help the club figure out what seeds to buy and start for seedling sales at the Spring Plant Sale 2018. And you’ll also get the recipe for an organic planting mix for your tomatoes (complete with fish heads).

It’s a fun idea that grew out of a bad tomato. Club president Cindy Fenton bought seeds and carefully raised a Pozzano tomato, a variety supposed to be resistant to blossom end rot. True to advertising, they didn’t come down with blossom rot, but they also didn’t taste very good.

“They were a real dud. I’m never raising them again,” she said.

On the wow end of the taste range was San Marzano. I planted an heirloom San Marzano seedling raised by friend Jennifer in Santa Rosa. It grew eggplant-sized tomatoes on a long scraggly climbing vine. (San Marzanos usually bring in whopper crops, unlike mine.)

But those San Marzanos were a little bit of tomato heaven: meaty, tender, sweet – and they made the best Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato & Avocado sandwich I’ve ever tasted in my life. (Local Sonoma county bacon from Oliver’s, plus sliced warm-from-the-sunshine San Marzano plus Half Spinach Half Spring Mix lettuce plus soft avocado all on thick slices of BurtoNZ French loaf, toasted and spread lightly with a little Best Foods mayo).

So, score one for the San Marzano, zero for the Pozzano. If you’ve got an heirloom tomato you love this year, and you want to try Jennifer’s trick for saving seeds, here’s what she did:

She put the seeds between two paper towels to dry (San Marzanos don’t make a lot of seeds). After the paper towels dried, she cut the paper into squares, leaving the seeds wrapped in paper. In the spring she planted the paper towel squares in her garden.

She raises her tomatoes in 8-inch high raised beds with good drainage, in full sun. (I grew her seedling in a half-wine barrel in my back yard; it shared space with sunflower stalks and a volunteer basil.)

The commercial San Marzanos have to be grown in the Valle del Sarno near Naples, Italy. They’re the official paste tomato of Neapolitan pizza. You can get heirloom San Marzano seeds all over the U.S.A. – but if you grow them, can them and sell them commercially, you can’t label them San Marzano. Only a handful of growers in Italy can do that. It’s sort of like Champagne vs. sparkling wine.

If you’re not into San Marzanos, what’s your favorite? Early Girl? Roma? Hillbilly? Brandywine? Mr. Stripey? Java Plum? And what grows best here – in our little corner of the world? And what’s a stinker – one you wouldn’t waste dirty dish water on? Do tell. (If you can’t make the September Sunday tomato tastings, you can email us and let us know at

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