Written by Maria Gaura
Farm & Garden
SANTA CRUZ (March 2011) – For more than a decade, Cynthia
Sandberg’s Love Apple Farm has been a Mecca for serious tomato lovers. Her
annual spring seedling sale, featuring more than 100 varieties of tomato, draws
throngs of home gardeners in search of tasty and unusual heirlooms such as Portuguese
Monster, Nebraska Wedding, Jaune Flamme and Hippy Zebra.
The biodynamic farm is also a haven for the kind of
gardeners who drop fish heads in the planting hole and water their plants with
tea made from worm poop, then post photographs of their ten-foot-tall tomato
vines online. Sandberg offers a wealth of back-to-basics garden wisdom to her
customers, as well as classes in gardening, composting, cooking and canning.
But beginning this month, Sandberg will be brewing her worm
poop tea at a new location.
She has bid farewell to the charming two-acre plot
in Ben Lomond where she first started farming, and moved Love Apple Farm into
an ambitious 20-acre spread off Vine Hill Road with a teaching kitchen,
classroom space, and room for livestock and fruit trees.
“The new acreage is going to open up a lot of opportunities
for us,” Sandberg said. “I’ve been teaching classes for years, and now we’ve
got a proper kitchen and garden classroom.”
Sandberg thins a bed of purple mizuna seedlings
FROM FIELD TO FORK
Since 2006, Love Apple Farm has also been the exclusive
provider of 300 types of fresh vegetables, free-range eggs and honey toManresa, the award-winning Los Gatos restaurant. Sandberg plans to expand her
partnership with Manresa chef David Kinch by producing a small number of heirloom
pigs, poultry and lambs for the restaurant, at the new site.
The farm was humming with activity on a recent morning, as
staff prepared for a cheesemaking class, crews relocated a flock of chickens
from Ben Lomond to their new home, and Sandberg watered hundreds of tomato
starts destined for the upcoming spring sale, which kicks off March 26.
“This is the beginning of the tomato crop,” Sandberg said,
dipping a watering can into a bucket of murky, nutrient-laden water with
beautifully manicured hands. “We sow new starts at two-week intervals so we can
get a constant supply through the end of the sale.”
NO PLAYING FAVORITES
Sandberg loves tomatoes, but she won’t say which among the
scores of varieties are her personal favorites. “It would be worse that
choosing among your children,” she said. “Because who has 100 children? And
anyway, if I said ‘These are my five favorites,” that’s all anyone would want
Besides, the real trick in growing tomatoes in Santa Cruz is
figuring out which varieties will do best in your particular microclimate.
For instance, my garden is at sea level, a half-mile from
the beach, with the attendant summer fog. But it also enjoys lots of sunshine
and surrounding homes and fences that block cooling breezes. After mulling it
over for a moment, Sandberg suggested six varieties for my garden: Sungold and
Black Cherry, Siletz, Jaune Flamme, Black Oxheart and Kiwi, which is green when
All of them would do well in our relatively cool summer
weather, she said, and the combination of orange, black, red and green fruits
would make a beautiful visual statement. In addition, “you can cook or can any
of them,” she said.
Sandberg’s new site, in contrast, enjoys hot, dry, fog-free
summer weather, a high altitude, and an unobstructed southern exposure. The new
farm is much warmer than the Ben Lomond site, which sat at a lower elevation.
Sandberg said crews shuttling between the two sites in recent weeks have
recorded morning temperatures as much as 20 degrees cooler at the Ben Lomond
The new Love Apple Farm was originally a winery, built in
1974 by Tom and Dick Smothers, of the Smothers Brothers comedy duo. When the
Smothers Brothers decamped to Sonoma County in 1977, the property changed hands
several times, serving as a private residence and then a small private school.
The grape vines have been gone for decades, but the sunny
terraces they grew on are now lined with raised garden beds. A sturdy chicken
coop sits on a nearby hillside, and a small herd of milking goats peer intently
at cars passing their grassy enclosure.
Sadly for the farm's many local fans, the new site will no longer be open for casual visitors. The ramped-up workload means that visits will be limited to students who sign up for classes and workshops at the farm.
But Sandberg hopes the new site will allow her to expand all
three of her passions: tomatoes, teaching and producing the exquisite produce
provided to Manresa. If all goes well, she and her crews may eventually be able
to eat some of the fruits of their labor.
“One of the great ironies of this setup is that all of this beautiful
produce goes to the restaurant,” Sandberg said. “Eventually, we’ll get to eat
Love Apple Farm’s Spring Tomato sale begins Saturday, March
26 and runs through June 26. This year’s sale takes place at the Know Garden
Box showroom at 46 El Pueblo Road in Scotts Valley. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Mondays through Fridays, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.