WSU Chelan-Douglas Master Gardeners to host 13th annual Tomato Gala

By Mary Fran McClure
WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener

lines of people tasting tomatoes.
Visitors taste tomatoes from a huge selection available on several tables during last year’s Tomato Gala under the trees at the Community Education Garden. This year’s gala, part of the Master Gardeners popular Third Saturday in the Garden series, will take place from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Aug. 19, at the CEG. – Provided photo/Mary Fran McClure
Mary Fran McClure
Mary Fran McClure – WSU Extension Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener – photo by Don Seabrook, Wenatchee World

Free tomato tasting under the trees during warm August weather was a hit last year and let’s hope for the same this year for the 13th annual Tomato Gala.

Come join the event from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the WSU Chelan-Douglas Master Gardeners Community Education Garden, on the northwest corner of Western and Springwater avenues in Wenatchee. Ongoing construction on Springwater limits all but local traffic, but parking is available in the nearby gravel parking lot, or use the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension entrance at 1100 N. Western Ave. to park right behind the garden.

The Tomato Gala was the brainchild of Debbie and Barry Benbow and Tim O’Dea. Just a few hardy people showed up that first year, and now we plan for more than 100 happy visitors. For the first few years, these monthly events were from 2 to 4 p.m. Boy, we learned quickly to change the timing to morning!

At registration, you will be given a ballot and pencil to vote for your favorites as you visit the tables set up for tasting four categories of tomatoes: heirlooms, hybrids, cherry and paste types.

Some gardeners are gung-ho for heirlooms, enjoying their great taste and interesting colors and shapes. Others are hybrid aficionados, appreciating their more consistent tomato supply. Many just appreciate picking and eating the cherry-sized ones while cruising the garden. Others go for the pleasure of making pasta sauces and such from the paste types. Many of us appreciate all those aspects.

Every year at this time, the Tomato Gala committee gets worried we’ll have a less than adequate supply of tomatoes. Either hot temperatures have limited pollination or major production time is either too early or just a bit late. Luckily, so far this summer, our worries have proved unfounded and plenty have been donated by Master Gardeners and friends!

It’s interesting looking at the list of past winners of this fun event, as every year there are some that are ripe just exactly timed for our event and others not quite at their prime. I remember growing Kellogg’s Breakfast tomatoes one year and the huge crop ripened with perfect timing, making them winners, while several other years the crop didn’t quite ripen simultaneously with our event.

In addition to tasting tomatoes, families can enjoy a new feature at the garden — Story Walk for Families — that promotes gardening, healthy eating and exercise. The pages of the book “I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato” will be displayed in a section of the garden so families can walk along and read the book together. At the end of the story walk, children will receive a goody bag with healthy activities and ideas to be active.

Also, bring your garden questions or problems to the onsite plant clinic that will be staffed by Master Gardeners. Another feature of this event is a table with various helpful garden-related items you may purchase. Proceeds support the Master Gardener Foundation of Chelan-Douglas Counties, which helps fund free events like this one.

Tomato Gala winners are announced the week following the event in The Wenatchee World, as well as on our program’s Facebook page. These winners form the basis of which tomato varieties we grow for our annual plant sale the last Saturday in April.

Cascade Autocenter was chosen as our sponsor for this event, expressing our great appreciation for its donation to help our recent and very successful Master Gardeners 50th anniversary celebration in June.

A WSU Chelan-Douglas Master Gardeners column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. To learn more, visit or call (509) 667-6540.