Sunday, May 31, 2015

Highland Kale Harvest Event

Highland Kale (Ethiopian Blue Mustard)

We are having a harvest event June 6th at our farm!  Attendees will be able to take home 20,000 freshly harvested seeds each, plus other Ethiopian seeds/plants/produce.  We also have a large number of pepper and tomato starts that are free to attendees.

Click here for more information, and to purchase a $5 reservation for this event.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

May 2nd Plant Sale List

Yellow Jazz -- Available at our May 2nd plant sale

Below is a partial list of the plants available this coming Saturday at our plant sale ($1 registration required)

The sale will take place at the Sunol AgPark from 9AM to 3PM.  Complimentary farm tours will also be available at 8AM and 3PM

Click links for descriptions.  Once you register, email us to reserve plants 

These tomatoes are available in 3" pots for $3
Yellow Jazz
Orange Caprese

These tomatoes are available in 3" pots for $4
Marzano Fire
Orange Jazz

These cherry tomatoes are available as "plugs" for $1
Pink Bumble Bee
Purple Bumble Bee
Sunrise Bumble Bee
Green Tiger

These Peppers are available in 3" pots for $3
Aji Amarillo (small version)
Caribbean Seasoning Peppers (mild Habanero-types)

These peppers are available in 3" pots for $4
Dolce di Minervino (sweet red Italian frying pepper)
Golden Dolce di Minervino (sweet golden Italian frying pepper)
Mareko Fana

These peppers are available in 3" pots for $8
Aji Amarillo (large)

We will have basil plugs available for 50 cents each and there will be other plants for sale as well.

Sunday, December 28, 2014


The Barn:  A symbol of the inter-connectedness of farmers

Farmers like to think of themselves as independent and self sufficient.  In reality, they are typically very dependent on their neighbors, and the dependency of farmers is something they struggle with every day.  Quite simply, many projects are just too big for an "individual" farmer to handle.  The classical "barn-raising" is a very concrete example of how farmers have often depended on help from neighbors -- because erecting a barn is very difficult to do alone, and the labor costs may well be too much for the farmer.  Thus, in many rural communities, farmers have historically helped each other by banding together to raise each others barns.

Barn-raising represents just one method that under-capitalized farmers have used raise the support they need for their enterprises.  Like traditional barn-raising, many of the methods involve support from communities.  A currently popular form of "barn-raising" is the "CSA" -- literally "Community Supported Agriculture", although to many the term has come to simply represent pre-paying for cheap, fresh veggies.  Another common type of "barn-raising" is the crowdfunding campaign.  Not surprisingly there is even a crowdfunding site called Barn RaiserOne challenge farmers struggle with, when forming CSAs or when crowdfunding, is the challenge to be fair with their supporters.

Let's be honest here -- informal contracts like CSAs and crowdfunding campaigns can be unbalanced.  Crowdfunding campaigns can, for example, simply function as outreach for charitable donations.  I often wonder what people think when we farmers want people to donate to our "back-to-the-land" dreams.  Particularly since so many people struggle in jobs that seem, at least on the surface, less rewarding than our "jobs" outside on the land and not tied to an office.  On the other side of things, now that crowdfunding for farms has become so commonplace, farmers are often driven to provide competitive "rewards" that are unrealistic and more costly to produce and distribute than the corresponding monetary pledge received. 

We have tried both the CSA model, and the crowdfunding model, and have struggled with both.  We have gotten pledges that probably felt like charitable donations, to the givers.  We have also distributed rewards that cost much more to harvest, assemble and distribute than the corresponding monetary pledge.  The other problem we have faced is that the fair "rewards" we have had to offer -- primarily new, exciting varieties of tomatoes -- don't seem to fit very well with the standard crowdfunding model.  Either that, or we have simply not been able to figure out how to find the people for whom our "rewards" would represent a fair transaction for both parties. 

Fortunately, our tomato breeding business has really developed rapidly in the past few years, and this has stabilized our overall business which from the start we envisioned as a farming-breeding business.  Our tomato varieties are now available nationally and internationally via our main partners Johnny's Selected Seeds and AP Whaley Seed Company, and we have long-term contracts with both of these partners that have greatly increased our tomato breeding productivity.  Royalty payments, paid by the companies distributing our varieties, have started to kick in this year.  They will be increasing progressively in the coming years, and they will be critical for the repayment of the remaining debt we have related to our business startup.

This winter we are in a unique position.  We have been paying down debt this year and our prospects going forward are exciting.  However, we are also scaling up our breeding efforts and we still find ourselves "under-capitalized".  For example, we are selecting the final sub-strains for six new tomato varieties, as well as doing earlier selection work for new tomato varieties, in two Mexican locations with a collaborating family farm.  We also have an extensive crossing project underway in rented greenhouses in Berkeley.  Add to this the fact that our annual farm rent is due in January, and this amounts to one more year of a winter cash shortfall that is so common to farming businesses.

In an effort to ease this shortfall, we are looking for barnraisers.  You help us with our barn, and we'll help you with yours.  We are looking for Collaborating Members for our farming-breeding business.  Here's how it works:

1.  The "barn" we need to "raise" represents part of our winter breeding costs, combined with part of our annual farm rent.

2.  In return for help with our "barn" we would like to help build the figurative "barns" of farmers and gardeners who want early access to our best new varieties.   Benefits may take the form of "bragging rights" for gardeners, or access to unique tomatoes that will help a small farm stand out at the farmers' market. 

3. We are looking for our tomato-loving neighbors.  We are looking for people who will contribute a very modest amount of "seed money" in return for our best new varieties.  We also want collaborators who will communicate with us for the next 10 years.  We want early feedback on our best new tomato varieties so we can better help all of our customers understand how they can be better grown successfully.  In return, we will make sure our Collaborating Members (our barnraisers) get all our best varieties ahead of time, and we will also make every effort to provide additional seed for the varieties that are working for them -- even if the official release of a variety they really like is delayed.  

This is not charity.  People often ask us for charity too.  They want our new varieties ahead of time -- and frankly, we can not afford to just give them out.  We have invested too much, and we need to get a return on that investment.  But, we do want to make sure that everyone who becomes one of our "Collaborating Members" is more than fairly compensated for the cost to join.  We don't want charity either.

One final request -- Please help us find our neighbors.  What we have to offer may well not be what you need.  But, if you know a farmer or gardener who loves tomatoes, particularly unique ones, please let them know about this barnraising. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Yellow Bumble Bee

An un-released "bumble bee" tomato we are working on -- It's working name is Yellow Bumble Bee

The flavor, shelf-life and productivity of this tomato are all exceptional.  This particular tomato (or something very similar) will be released in late 2015 to our Collaborating Members, and to the general public in late 2016. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

January 4th Tomato Breeding Workshop

Come see how we breed tomatoes like Spike (above)

We are offering a tomato breeding workshop on Sunday January 4th, at our winter greenhouse site in Berkeley, CA.  Limited to 6 people.  For more about this workshop see here

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: 2015 Varieties for Collaborating Members

Jazz and Yellow Jazz.  Available to collaborating members this year. 

Seeds for the following tomato varieties will be delivered to our collaborating members in January 2015:

1.  Jazz -- Pink beefsteak with yellow stripes.  Very sweet, rich flavor.  Early versions of Jazz are shown in the photograph above.  Since then we have selected for shape uniformity (with less folding) and added firmness.  This is a great tomato for specialty farmers.  This variety has been selected under disease pressure for the past 8 years, and it forms very vigorous vines that are relatively resistant to fungal pathogens.   Slated for release Fall 2015

2.  Yellow Jazz -- Yellow bicolor beefsteak with yellow stripes.  Bright, tropical, sweet flavor.  Early versions of Yellow Jazz are shown in the photograph above.  Since then we have selected for shape uniformity (with less folding) and added firmness.  This is a great tomato for specialty farmers.  This variety has been selected under disease pressure for the past 8 years, and it forms very vigorous vines that are relatively resistant to fungal pathogens.  Slated for release Fall 2015

3.  Orange Jazz --  Orange beefsteak with yellow stripes.  Very unique looking tomato.  Sweet flavor has hints of peaches.  This is a great tomato for specialty farmers.  This variety has been selected under disease pressure for the past 5 years, and it forms very vigorous vines that are relatively resistant to fungal pathogens.  Slated for release Fall 2015

4.  Marzano Fire -- Red San Marzano-type tomato with yellow stripes.  The dry, meaty flesh and few seeds make this tomato excellent for sauces.  Vines are vigorous and productive.  Great for gardeners who want an incomparable sauce tomato.  Slated for release Fall 2015

5.  Fire -- A versatile meaty paste tomato.  Yellow bicolor with yellow stripes.  Selected for firmness, and fresh-flavor characteristics.  This tomato is great for use in Caprese salads.  The marbled flesh is very attractive and the fresh flavor is comparable to beefsteaks, when fruits are full-ripe.  Firm tomatoes (slightly pre-ripe, but full-color) are excellent for making sauces and for canning.  Slated for release Fall 2015

6.  Sunol -- Orange paste tomato with very fine-grained flesh and delicate flavor.  Excellent when used to make light orange sauces for pasta dishes.  Can also be used with red sauce tomatoes to sweeten and brighten more typical sauces.  Also good fresh, as a salad tomato.  Slated for release Fall 2015

 Spike -- A backyard tomato with a cult following in the Bay Area, due to it's bold flavor

7.  Spike -- Deep orange medium-sized tomato with stripes that vary from green to gold.  This is the perfect tomato for small backyard spaces.  Bushy vines are very productive, and the foliage is lacy.  Packed with flavor, which is great off the vine.  Rapid ripening and soft flesh present packing and delivery challenges for small growers.  This tomato is really best suited to gardeners, and the flavor is truly outstanding -- a mix of sweet and tangy, and very bold.  Spike has been released on a limited basis for years in the Bay Area, where we have sold Spike seedlings for almost 10 years.  Currently available for purchase at

Collaborating members in the Bay Area can choose to get seedlings, instead of seeds.  Email us for more information. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Terremoto Squash Landrace

Terremoto Landrace:  The predominant hard pink version

By 2007 we had selected a handful of excellent pumpkinesque winter squash to grow, from among a large number we trialed in 2006.  Chief among them was Triamble, an Australian blue squash.  We loved the shape and the density, and Triamble also has a clean, small-grained flesh.  It's deep orange interior flesh is extremely flavorful, and it is an excellent variety for use in soups and as a hearty vegetable. 

Terremoto Landrace:  Some blue, hard-shelled "triamble-like" squash are produced every year in our Terremoto Landrace field. 

In 2007 we collected seed from our best Triamble fruits.  Because bees very actively transport pollen from flower to flower in squash fields, many of the seeds from those Triamble fruits contained hybrid embryos between Triamble and other squash growing nearby.  Thus when we grew plants from the "Triamble" seed in 2008, fruits of many sizes, shapes and colors were produced.

Starting in 2008 we began selecting our favorite 3-lobed squash every year, and saving seed from the best fruits.  The result is our current landrace of 3-lobed squash -- the Terremoto landrace.  Most of the squash produced each year are hard-shelled, and pink.  But many of them are softer-skinned and orange.  In addition to these two main types, we also still get some hard blue squash, soft-skinned green squash and even a small amount of squash with the coloration of Lakota squash (one of our favorites in 2007).  We even have a few every year that have sugar warts, which is not a surprise, because Galeaux d"Eysines was is one of the founding varieties in our landrace. 

Terremoto Landrace:  The commonly occurring soft-skinned, orange form.

Because we only select 3-lobed squash for seed saving, almost all of the squash produced from saved seed is now 3 (or 4) lobed.  While we select more pink and orange squash for seed harvesting, we do also select a few squash that are other colors as well, each year.  The cross-pollination work of the bees is also important, as it keeps the population "mixed-up" and interesting. 

The development of our Terremoto Landrace is an example of an alternative breeding approach often used by farmers.  It is not always necessary (or desired) to push varieties to genetic uniformity.  Keeping additional genetic diversity within a population is a good thing for many reasons, and for us one of the primary reasons is that our Terremoto Landrace sets our farmers' market stand apart from others.  Our customers love the shape and density of our 3-lobed squash, and they love the array of colors.  The hard-shelled forms can be kept for over a year, and then eaten after extended use for decoration. 

Seeds for our Terremoto Landrace can be purchased from our Artisan Seeds online store

Monday, November 17, 2014

Artisan Seeds memberships available for limited time

Our Artisan Seeds cherry tomatoes
Want to stay ahead of the curve, when it comes to growing new varieties of tomatoes that excite your customers or friends?  Become a Collaborating Member of our breeding business at Artisan Seeds.
We are signing up “Collaborating Members” between now and March 2015, and we will be providing a minimum of 32 new tomato varieties to our “Collaborating Members” over the next 10 years.  Members can be farms, gardening groups or individuals.
By signing up, you will be getting access to these new varieties at a cost of $6.25 per variety or less(because 32 varieties is the minimum number we will be sending out)!
How can we provide all these new tomato varieties?  It’s simple — although we operate a 6-acre organic farm,our primary business is plant breeding.  We have a large number of open-pollinated varieties (like our Artisan Cherry Tomatoes) that are either finished, or in their final phases of testing.  We are also now breeding some new gourmet F1 hybrids tomatoes, with small organic growers in mind.  These new varieties will contain disease resistance traits and increased shelf-life traits that, for small growers, can mean the difference between making and losing money on a tomato crop.

Produce Available for Sunol pick-up

Terremoto Winter Squash

The following items are currently available for pick-up in Sunol:

Terremoto squash -- $1.30/lb (5 lb minimum)

Spigariello (Broccoli Kale or Leaf Broccoli) -- $4/1 lb bag

Pea shoots (Daumeo) -- $4/1 lb bag

Cilantro blossoms -- $6/50 flower clusters

Nasturtium flowers -- $6/50 flowers

Please order (and arrange pick-up) by email, 1 day in advance.  See blog profile for email address.

What do people think of Artisan Cherry tomatoes?

Artisan Cherry tomatoes are still new to most people, but word is spreading. 

Some folks think Blush is pretty special

Purple Bumble Bee was nominated as "tomato of the day".

Sunrise Bumble Bee gets a rave review by this blogger.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Johnny's announces R & D Partnership with Artisan Seeds

All seven Artisan cherry tomatoes available at Johnny's

Johnny's Selected seeds has announced it's relationship with Artisan Seeds here, in the context of a discussion of their trialing and selecting process.

These tomatoes, the first fruits of our R & D relationship with Johnny's, will be available starting November 19th.

Our collaboration continues, and there will be more exciting varieties released in the coming years.  Stay tuned.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The story of Blush continues...

Blush:  Masterminded by Alex.  This tomato spawned a "rule" of breeding that we live by.

Blush was recently a taste-test winner in Pennyslvania.  Check out the tally sheet from the Franklin County Master Gardener's taste test (September 11, 2012)

Our julienne cherry tomato -- Blush -- was created when Alex (age 8 at the time) decided to cross his two favorite tomatoes.  It has been turning heads ever since.

Blush has also been very important as a parent line:  A few years ago, when we had accumulated a group of round, striped cherry tomatoes, they looked great, but didn't compete with Blush in flavor.  What did we do?  We held them back, and crossed every single one to Blush.  We think it was worth it, and now you can decide if you agree, because some of Blush's descendents are now available.

A little more history:  The year that the cross that created Blush was made, Alex participated in setting up crosses for our annual winter crossing list.  He chose 3 of the 19 crosses to be made that year, after the other 16 had been established (by a PhD-holding plant breeder with big plans).  The striking outcome is that about 90% of the value from that year came from Alex's 3 crosses.  The progeny from his crosses continue to permeate most everything we are doing.  

What was Alex's breeding secret?  He crossed his favorite tomatoes.

He didn't try to "fix" cool looking, but poor tasting, varieties.  He picked his 4 favorite tomatoes and suggested 3 crosses.  The striking results from that year spawned "Alex's Rule" of tomato breeding:  Cross tomatoes that taste great with other tomatoes that taste great -- because it is hard to get a mediocre-tasting tomato from two parents who taste great. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mareko Fana Diversity

Some Mareko Fana peppers are red. Most are brown.

Mareko Fana comes in many shapes.

The Mareko Fana that Menkir Tamrat brought us two years ago is probably best characterized as a "land race". Some are short, some are long. Most are brown but some are red. Most are thick-fleshed, but some are thin-skinned and delicate.

We are going to be evaluating and playing around with the diversity of our populations for a long time to come. However, in the short term we are selecting for two types of Mareko Fana:

Mareko Fana: Brown and thick-fleshed. Excellent for making Berbere spice. We typically use these mature, and dry them before use.

Mareko Fana Red: Red, thin-skinned and delicate. Fantastic as a frying pepper. We typically pick many of these young, and sell (or eat) them as frying peppers. The taste is mild when they are young.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Directions to the farm

Location of our farm in Sunol

Red arrow indicates 4-way stop sign. Blue dot is the Sunol Water Temple. Yellow rectangle is our field.

We farm adjacent to the Sunol Water Temple (as part of the Sunol AgPark), and we hold small hands-on workshops at our farm site.  Upcoming workshops are listed at

General tours, educational events and school visits to the site are coordinated by SAGE.