If you are a market farmer or a serious tomato grower, you probably have heard the name of Bradley Gates. And if you don’t recognize that name, you may know the names “Blue Beauty,” “Blue Berries,” “Pink Berkeley Tie Dye,” “Indigo Apple,” and so forth. (And Brad, if your name isn’t yet a household word, I’d reckon that the name ‘Pink Berkeley Tie Die’ is, at least in many households!) These are just a few of the new breeds of tomatoes that Brad has developed in the past few years. There are more; they are impressively beautiful, strikingly different, and Brad has shared seeds from some of them with me so I can do a tomato seed giveaway! (With you, dear gentle readers.)
Winter is not loosening its grip on Nebraska. By the way. *siiigh* But we do not complain.
Okay, maybe we do complain. A little. Or a lot. But if–after complaining a little or a lot about another snowstorm, another week of grey, cold days, another BLIZZARD THAT MADE US MOVE OUR MELODRAMA TO ANOTHER DAY (true story)–we are holding a handful of seed envelopes in our winter-chapped fingers; if we have a garden planner in one hand and a bag of germinating mix in the other; if our seed catalogs are dog-eared and coffee ring-stained: why, we know that we will survive until Princess Spring condescends to appear. “Better late than never” we’ll grumble, as we pick up our hoes and wheelbarrows, raise our fish belly-white faces to the sun, and get to work.
We will make it through this, the longest winter ever (seemingly). The record-breaking, chilblain-inducing, winter of 2018 and 2019.
(I can tell you one thing. I, for one, will never again moan and complain about never getting enough snow here in Nebraska, nor will I wonder aloud the matter of whatever happened to the “good old-fashioned winters of my youth.” That is my stern resolve.)
Anyway. *sigh* Back to Brad Gates, my new friend and (I wish) my new neighbor. I just had this flight of fancy, after I heard about how many tomato plants that Brad plants every year, and also how he invites chefs out to his place to taste all those new varieties that he’s coming up with . . . yeah. I’d take him for a neighbor. Especially if I could move to the San Diego region of California where (I’ll reckon) I bet it’s not STILL snowing. Though it started snowing in October, and it’s nearly March.
So . . . unlike here.
I blame this congenial farmer Brad, in part, for getting me into market farming. Heirloom and artisan tomatoes (like the new breeds that he has been developing) are such a satisfying thing for me to grow, that years ago I got into this habit of growing more than we could ever use. Waaaaay more.
Another farmer friend wondered aloud why I wasn’t selling them. Good idea, thought I, and so . . . I started selling them. It turns out that chefs in Nebraska like fancy, unique, delicious tomatoes, too.
Brad’s my kind of guy. I’ll bet when he first started growing tomatoes, a few of his nearest and dearest raised their eyebrows at the number of plants he grew each year. You and me, Brad.
After working Saturdays for a summer selling at farmers markets for a friend, Brad became fascinated with the farmers market scene and began growing “those weird non-red tomatoes,” or heirloom tomatoes. To find heirloom tomatoes then (and now, actually), you either had to shop farmer’s markets or grow them yourself.
Brad grew 500 tomato plants his first year, and the next year he doubled that number. Now 14 years later, Brad owns a farm and wholesale business that supplies tomatoes to Bay Area restaurants and businesses. He also hosts a series of Farm to Table events in mid to late August as the tomatoes ripen on his farm each year.
Brad is the proprietor of Wild Boar Farms near Napa, California, where he offers some of the most unusual tomatoes available on the planet. Using heirloom genetics and mutations as a foundation, and growing organically and sustainably, he creates tomato varieties with new colors, flavors, and shapes. His goal: to create the most amazing tomato varieties possible. You can read about my experience with many of Brad’s varieties by looking back at my “Heirloom Tomatoes that I’ll Grow Again posts. There are several of them.
Brad’s current main focus is on bi-color and striped varieties with different flavors and fascinating looks.
Brad: I have been obsessed with tomatoes for about 25 years so I don’t see that changing. I’m wanting to expand my Nursery business. I will definitely continue breeding new tomato varieties, without a doubt that is the funnest part that I do. I have dozens and dozens of tomato crosses still yet to finish.
Brad: I’m growing about 15,000 plants to sell as Nursery plants. Another 2000 plants for breeding and evaluation that will be field-grown. Also working on a project to grow two to three thousand plants to sell the fruits.
Me: Every year I tweak my tomato planting process, trying to better meet the needs of my tomato plants. Last year, for example, I realized that I really needed to put more space between my plants, which ultimately did make for healthier plants. Do you have any tried-and-true tomato planting techniques that you would share with my readers?
Brad: One of the problems some gardeners have is not enough space for all the tomato varieties they want to grow. I have a technique where I put three or four plants where you would usually plant one. I then prune all the suckers off of each plant. In the end the four plants look like one plant but have four different tomato varieties instead of one essentially tripling or quadrupling the amount of varieties you can grow.
Brad: Every year is different for sure. I do not own land and have to lease so moving to new locations can be very challenging. Optimizing soil health is key. Hard to grow healthy plants in the unhealthy soil. Good compost and organic fertilizers work best for me. I truly believe that healthy soil amps up the tomatoes natural defenses.
Thanks for popping in, Gentle Reader. Hang on. Spring is coming. I hear. I hope. It is, right??