Cal Poly’s epic tomato sale is back — and it has a new name

Cal Poly’s annual tomato plant sale is back — but, this time, under a different name.

The Tomato Spectacular, formerly known as Tomato Mania, will be held Saturday and Sunday at the Horticulture Unit near the Cal Poly Plant Shop on Via Carta Road, according to a Cal Poly news release.

The Tomato Spectacular, which runs 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days, will offer 71 varieties of tomato plants, all grown by agriculture and environmental plant science students, the release said.

Varieties available for sale include Brandywine, Early Girl, Homestead and a range of cherry tomato plants.

Tomato Spectacular “gives students the opportunity to get involved directly in the industry and experience hands-on learning,” Beth Funke, a third-year student involved in the project, said in the release. “There are so many different dynamic aspects of working in agriculture.”

Cal Poly’s Tomato Spectacular, formerly known as Tomato Mania, is being held Saturday and Sunday at the Horticulture Unit near the Cal Poly Plant Shop. More than 70 varieties of tomato plants are available. Laura Dickinson ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

This year the plant production and sale served as head grower Justin Williams’ senior project, he told The Tribune via phone. Williams is one of six students who worked on the seeding and growing of more than 5,000 plants through an enterprise class.

The students began seeding in February and have continued to test for fertility and plant health.

WIlliams said he spent 10 to 20 hours a week in the on-campus greenhouse where the plants were grown.

“It’s really amazing to see everything come full circle,” Williams said. “I’m excited to see everyone find a product they can be proud of.”

The students hope to bring in about $25,000 from the sale, with plants going for $7 each. If customers buy five or more plants, the plants will be sold at a discounted price.

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About a third of the money goes toward the Horticulture and Crop Science department within the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. The rest of the money is split between the six students, Williams said, noting that students are not paid for their work with the plants until the sale. In the past, students have averaged about $2,000 each, he said.

For healthy tomato plants, WIlliams said he recommends soil with a higher nitrogen rate and lower phosphorous and potassium rates before the plants begin to flower. Once the fruit begins to flower, he said, lowering the nitrogen rate and maintaining the phosphorus and potassium rates will yield more crops.

The student growers will be at the sale to answer questions and help community members pick the right plant for their tomato needs.

The annual Cal Poly tomato plant sale has been held for at least 10 years under the name Tomato Mania.

Students had to change the name of the popular event in 2019 because of trademark issues, Williams said. Tomatomania, advertised as the world’s largest heirloom tomato seedling sale, started in Pasadena in the early 1990s and now hosts events throughout California, according to its website.

Williams said Tomato Spectacular was one of the only names involving tomatoes that was copyright free.

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