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In our continued efforts to provide educational outreach, the Baltimore County Master Gardeners (BCMG), volunteers who are part of the University of Maryland Extension, offer this newest installment in our monthly newsletters designed to provide timely, informative articles to assist you in your gardening activities.

It's Tomato Time!

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The Inimitable Solanum lycopersicum
By Norman Cohen, Baltimore County Master Gardener

The usual cast of seed catalogs has been on the internet for almost 2 months. Time has come to make those difficult decisions as to which tomato seeds to purchase. With innumerable catalogs which have countless heirlooms, hybrids, and new irresistible described introductions, the selections can be daunting. With over 100 Baltimore County master gardeners who have their biased opinions, it is very difficult to make recommendations without more than a few arguments.

A quick brief history is in order. The tomato was domesticated in Mesoamerica by the Pueblo Indians since 500 B.C.  The Pueblo people are thought to have believed that those who witnessed the ingestion of tomato seeds were blessed with powers of divination. This might be one reason, other than taste and color, that we are so enamored by the tomato. The tomato was taken back to Europe either by Columbus or Cortez in the early 1500s. The Italian botanist in the 1540s, Pietro Andrea Mattioli, suggested that a new type of eggplant, Solanum melongena, had been discovered. The earliest record of its cultivation in British North America in South Carolina is 1710. Over 7500 varieties exist. The leading producer is China with approximately 42 million tons followed by the United States 13 million yearly.

In selecting tomato varieties, my number one priority is disease resistance. In the better seed catalogs each variety, with its mouth-watering description, is given in cryptic code its disease resistance. For example, the pedestrian hybrid, University of Maryland recommended ‘Celebrity’ is resistant to F2 (Fusarium Wilt, Races 1 and 2; N (Nematodes); TMV (Tobacco Mosaic Virus), and V (Verticillium Wilt). Heirlooms have no disease resistance. If you want to grow ‘Brandywine’, considered one of the finest tasting and the tomato most venerated in the laugh-out-loud book “64 Dollar Tomato” by William Alexander, all aspects of Integrated Pest Management must be the order of the day.  My other criteria for selection are taste, use, indeterminate or determinate, days to maturity, and color. As to color, ’Green Zebra’, technically not an heirloom, is so unappealing to me in its appearance that I would rather not eat it.

A few seasons ago, in the Vegetable Demonstration Garden (BCMG Demo Garden, 1114 Shawan Road, Cockeysville- open to all, every day), tomatoes were planted in three different areas: container, beginners’ and the fruit and bean plots. Sixteen varieties were planted.  

In the beginners’ garden were the usual, popular hybrids:
  • Big Boy
  • Better Boy
  • Early Girl
  • Celebrity and,
  • Sungold.
In the heirlooms section of the beginner's garden:
  • Brandywine
  • Cherokee Purple
  • Green Zebra,
  • Plum Crimson, an Italian paste, and
  • Big Red Cherry, a cherry tomato.
Tomatoes in the Container Area that were a bust and not to be repeated were:
  • Bajaja (more productive with some shade but not tasty)
  • Shady Lady (thick-skinned and tasteless), and
  • a paste tomato called Margherita which did reasonably well with a decent harvest over a short period which is typical of determinates.
In the fruit and bean plot were:
  • Yellow Brandywine
  • German Giant
  • Sungold
  • Green Zebra
  • Super Snow White
  • German Giant, and
    unfortunately, they all had stink bug damage by mid-late season. The damage was limited by harvesting them just as they started to ripen. The use of a floating row cover draped over the plant can be a useful deterrent, but a pain in the derriere constantly taking it off and putting back to harvest. After doing my chores, I would cozy up to my favorite Sungold and have more than a few. Yellow Brandywine was deemed to be of inferior taste and quality
The nurseries and box stores have transplants around May 1st, and around Mother’s Day, we all have that insatiable desire to plant our tomatoes. However, tomatoes are a semi-tropical fruit that starts to thrive when soil temperatures are near sixty and the daytime temperatures are in the high seventies; planting 2 to 3 weeks later will prevent many fungal diseases, especially early blight, and allows the root system to develop to have a more productive plant.

Happy seed hunting!!

Photo credits:
Tomatoes_red_yellow- Ludo38- Public domain
Tomato- Peter Griffin- Public Domain

Raised Bed Gardening
Leader- Tom Zeller
Tuesday, March 29, 2022 at 6:30 PM

Native Bees
Leader- Sara Yosua
Tuesday, April 12, 2022 at 6:30 PM

Gardening for Kids
Leader- Randy Low
Saturday, May 14, 2022 at 2:00 PM

Vegetable Gardening Basics
Leader- Norman Cohen
Monday, May 2, 2022 at 6:00 PM

Integrated Pest Management
Leader- Norman Cohen
Saturday, June 11, 2022 at 2:00 PM

These are 1-hour seminars held in our Demonstration Garden at the Ag. Center (1114 Shawn Road, Cockeysville). Each 1-hour session is led by Baltimore County Master Gardeners beginning at 10:00 am.  Each session has a distinct plan if rain is in the forecast for that day; please see the description for the specific session.
June 4, Bay Wise Garden"Gardening for Beauty and a Healthy Environment”
Learn about gardening in harmony with nature by using native plants, controlling stormwater runoff, reducing lawns, and using fertilizers and water sparingly.
Rain plan:  Cancel if hard rain. If light rain, we will proceed in the garden, bring umbrellas! 

June 11, Deer Resistant Garden:  “Oh Deer!!! Don’t Eat That!!!”
Deer are present in much of Baltimore County, so in this session learn about how to plan your garden through plant choices, barriers, and design strategies with deer in mind.
Rain plan: light rain, we will proceed in the garden bring umbrellas, harder rain we will meet outside the Ag Center Main building classroom on the West side of the building.

June 25, Orchard Garden: “Growing Fruit in Your Backyard”
A conversation in the Orchard based on the premise that no garden is too small to have fruit! Subjects covered will range from site selection to propagation. 
Rain plan:  We will have a rain date of July 9 if the forecast calls for heavy rain.


We will have 3 sessions in the Children’s Garden, especially for kids ages 7-10.  Each session will begin at 10:00 and will last an hour.  The theme this summer is: Inviting Creatures into the Garden.  Each session will focus on beneficial garden creatures. We will demonstrate how each creature helps enhance the vitality of the garden, and we will build creature houses for each participant to take home to their own garden.
Rain Plan: Any rain, these sessions will move under cover of the Ag. Center Main Building.
There is a $5 fee for each participant, to cover the costs of supplies,
Sign up on Eventbrite is REQUIRED-


June 18  Session 1, “Bring on the Birds”  Children will learn how birds help manage bugs in our yards, and how they can promote the growth of plants that keep our environment healthy.  We will be making birdhouses using house paint. Please dress for potential splatter!!!   
July 16  Session 2,  “Thanks to Toads”  We will explore the differences and similarities of frogs and toads, then discuss how they help keep the bug population under control in our yards.  We will be building toad houses. Please dress for paint splatter!!
 August 13  Session 3,  “Benefits of Bees”  We will learn the difference between bees and wasps, how bees help as pollinators in the garden, and their importance for our food supply. We will build bee houses and paint. Please dress for splatter!!!


Where: Baltimore, Agricultural (Ag) Center and Farm Park
            1114 Shawan Road, Cockeysville
When:  Sunday, April 24, 2022
Time:   10 AM to 2 PM

Join us for a site-wide special event celebrating Earth Day on the Farm!
Live, music, food vendors, games, activities, face painting, greenhouse tour, animal encounters, scavenger hunts with prizes, hayrides, mazes, and much more.
Don't forget to visit the Master Gardener Demonstration (Demo) Garden for educational and fun events as well.
Free for all ages
No Registration Required

New this year, Baltimore County will now allow some food scraps to be used in backyard composting. Visit the County’s composting page for more information and to see a list of prohibited food items. See the backyard composting guide for more information.

To help enable residents to participate in the sustainable practices of home composting and rainwater reuse, Baltimore County is hosting an online pre-order sale for compost bins and rain barrels. Compost bins are available for $55 each, and rain barrels are available for $65 each. There is an additional $25 flat rate delivery charge. Prices include tax. This sale is limited to residents of Baltimore County and City only. Starting February 1, products can be ordered at Pre-orders are open until Thursday, March 31.

All orders will be delivered directly to residents’ homes between March 15 and April 30, 2022. The delivery agents will follow social distancing protocols, and orders will be delivered to each resident’s driveway or front door.
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