Saturday, September 12, 2009

Love Apple Farm Tour and Tomato Class

My local gardening group recently went on a tour of nearby Love Apple Farm in Ben Lomond, and I thought I'd share a little of our day with you. They are known for their tomatoes (thus the name), but organically grow an incredible variety of vegetables exclusively for Manresa restaurant, which is reportedly among the top 50 restaurants in the world, and which I won't be affording any time soon, maybe ever. But their menus sure sound delicious, and having seen the care with which the food is grown, I'm sure they deserve their two Michelin stars.

Cynthia Sandberg showed us around on a very hot Saturday while her apprentices worked in the garden to earn their education and board at the farm. Everything there is grown biodynamically, and nothing goes to waste. Crop leaves harboring leaf miner maggots are not composted, but given to the chickens (and one token pig) to end the pest's cycle and produce fertilzer (chicken manure) for the crops. Everything works together as a system, and there's something fundamentally appealing to me about that.

Cheerful dahlias and sunflowers are mixed among the raised vegetable beds with the food, and there is always a new crop being sowed or harvested. Pests such as gophers are trapped, and I was surprised to learn that the raised beds are not protected underneath with wire, as most folks do around here.

Cynthia shows us some of the non-vegetable crops growing at the edges of the raised beds.

Their last sowing of corn was only knee high last week, at the end of August.

The farm brings in income through classes and tours, selling vegetables, and selling tomato plants in the spring. From what we saw during our few hours there, Cynthia is very involved in the detailed work of the farm, and freely shares her knowledge with visitors.

We also had a mini version of her Master Tomato growing class, and a tomato tasting. I was surprised by the variety in color, size, and flavor, and now have some new favorites including Great White, Brown Stripe (despite it's appearance and unappetizing name), and Brandy Sweet Plum. I'm determined to do better next year, provided I can find a sunnier spot in the garden. She recommended a number of smaller fruit varieties that would do well in the lower light conditions that mountain gardeners often have.

Have you ever tasted a Litchi tomato? You need heavy duty gloves to handle them because of the thorns. We didn't taste any during our visit, unfortunately.

After our tour and class we scattered to the shade to eat our bag lunches and talk about what we learned. I think everyone in our group is eager to do better with tomatoes, and some had already been growing Cynthia's plants they had gotten in the spring sale.

If you're interested in her tips for growing better tomatoes, check out her beautiful blog, which is filled with great content - her planting tips apply to container grown tomatoes as well as those grown in the ground. And if you're anywhere in the San Francisco Bay area in the spring, do stop by to get some seedlings. I sure plan to.

1 comment: said...

good morn Patty...
thanks for the wonderful mini vaca..

mona & the girls
just love fresh tomatoes,olive oil & a little balsamic..


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