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New Digs For Santa Cruz Tomato Queen

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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 to buy.”
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 ripe.
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.
MOUNTAIN LIVING
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 farm.
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 some, too.”
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.