You say tomato, Piedmont Master Gardeners say new lecture series – The Daily Progress

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You say tomato, Piedmont Master Gardeners say new lecture series

Author Ira Wallace, an organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello and an owner/worker with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Louisa County, will speak on “Better Backyard Tomatoes.”

Courtesy of Piedmont Master Gardeners

If you’re hoping to hop on the home-grown tomato bandwagon this year, help is available for a smoother ride. Ira Wallace, author of the newly released “Grow Great Vegetables in Virginia,” will speak on “Better Backyard Tomatoes” at 7 p.m. Thursday to launch Piedmont Master Gardeners’ 2021 Spring Lecture Series.Wallace, an organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello and an owner/worker with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Louisa County, will talk about heirloom varieties, hybrids and all kinds of factors to consider when growing the fruit she describes as “the entryway into the gardening world for many people.”To prepare for Thursday’s lecture, start thinking about the ways you’d like to use the tomatoes you grow, because that’s a practical way to focus your search for the right varieties. Do you want a tomato that slices cleanly for sandwiches, packs well in lunchboxes or simmers easily into sauce?Wallace will focus on the importance of establishing proper soil conditions and watering in the right amounts. “Then we’ll talk about, ‘What do you want out of a tomato?’’’ she said.Wallace is partial to cold-weather greens and root crops herself, but she understands the appeal of a satisfying old-school heirloom tomato.“We specialize in heirloom tomatoes that are old and good,” Wallace said of Southern Exposure. “Some heirlooms are more persnickety.”Beefsteak tomatoes, for example, will require more organic material in the soil, “but they deliver the flavor.” Wallace calls them “appealing, and challenging to grow.”People who’ve battled tomato-induced stomachaches in the past may have better results with sweeter orange and yellow varieties that are lower in acid, she said.The Sun Gold hybrid cherry tomato, for instance, “is a very nice yellow-orange, and it’s got to be one of the sweetest tomatoes,” Wallace said. “They’re for popping in a small child’s mouth.”If your goal is to raise a tomato that’s luscious in sauces, consider Romas or San Marinos, she said. Farmer and writer Pam Dawling in Louisa has been hard at work developing the Roma Virginia Select variety.Sauces made from home-grown tomatoes have lured many veggie haters to make exceptions. Wallace said oven-roasted tomatoes offer a quicker pathway to a caramelized taste of increased sweetness “as if you’ve simmered it all day in Grandma’s kitchen.”Some tomatoes successfully do double duty. Alston Everlasting, which Wallace calls a “two-bite cherry,” “is a tomato that ripens nicely on the vine,” she said. “It makes a great sauce, even though I go to Romas if I want a sauce, or drying for later cooking.”A year ago, as the pandemic stirred interest in lockdown gardening across the country, the crush of orders from newcomers overwhelmed many seed companies. Wallace said that if you ran into obstacles last year with long waits or website shutdowns, you’re likely to have better luck this year.“It wasn’t a lack of seed, but a lack of seed ready to go out the door,” she said. “There are lots of new gardeners out there; tell them not to despair.”The pandemic isn’t the only phenomenon affecting the tomato world these days. As changing fashion trends have resulted in women buying fewer pairs of pantyhose, fewer rejects with runs are available to be recycled as gentle ties for staking tomatoes in gardens and containers. Wallace offers an alternative that offers an extra benefit.“A lot of times, we just use jute cord — the kind of thing you use in children’s art projects,” she said. “If you leave it in the garden, it will biodegrade naturally.”Wallace’s talk is the first of four weekly lectures. Coming up are the following events: » 7 p.m. March 11: Carol Heiser will speak on “What Is Conservation Landscaping?” Heiser, a longtime habitat education coordinator and education section manager with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, will present the eight essential elements of conservation landscaping.» 7 p.m. March 18: Entomologist Mike Raupp, author of “26 Things That Bug Me,” will present “What a Warming World Means for Plants, Pests and Their Natural Enemies.” Raupp will explain the ecological impact of climate change and how it can affect a wide range of insects.» 7 p.m. March 25: Robyn Puffenbarger, who chairs the Department of Biology and Environmental Science at Bridgewater College, will present “Robins to Raptors: Observing Birds in Our Backyards.” Puffenbarger will use the college’s bird skin collection to help participants build identification skills and learn how to attract more birds to their back yards.To sign up to receive an invitation to the Zoom sessions, go to piemontmas tergardeners.org/events/.

Author Ira Wallace, an organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello and an owner/worker with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Louisa County, will speak on “Better Backyard Tomatoes.”

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