Scott Daigre, organizer of Tomatomania!, expects bigger things from his annual pop-up sales, which last year sold upward of 50,000 tomato plants. He paused during Tomatomania! in Encino last week to talk about what's new this year: a growing buzz for blue tomatoes, the most novel novelties among about 140 varieties of heirlooms and rare hybrids that he sells. We asked Daigre to explain the story behind the new blues for this edited Q&A.
What's with the blue tomatoes?
It's just what people are talking about in tomatoes right now. It's novel, appearing more and more. The blue gene, the way I heard it, was isolated at Oregon state, which is kind of legendary for its work with cold-tolerant tomatoes. Someone there isolated the blue gene in a wild tomato. So that's what they used for breeding.
What are some of the blues out there?
Indigo Rose was the one that hit last year. It's small. It's eggplant colored, seriously blue-black. It inspired a lot of people. It's unique in that it takes a long time to ripen. People might be a little frustrated by that. What's happening in the second wave of blues this year is they are taking that blue and crossing it with tomatoes with better taste. Some hybridizers are saying, "This is interesting, but I also want tasty."
The first ones out were novelties. They didn't win any taste tests. But in some tomato circles, there's a whole ornamental thing. If it's not going to be grown for taste, maybe it's great garnish. And any tomato is great in a salad. I had some people say they used blues last year as a dried tomato, and it was dynamite.
There are a couple of hubs of this activity. One of the guys is Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms. Brad has been hybridizing for 10 years, and he does all of these crazy strains. Blue Beauty is one. He calls another one Blue Gold.
How do these blue tomatoes do with disease resistance or pest resistance?
They have been pretty hearty plants.
Are the blues really different from the purples that gardeners have seen on the market for some time?
They are, mostly because of what this new color carries, anthocyanins [compound that also appears in blueberries, among other things]. But with these new sizes, deeper hues and wacky combinations -- blue/yellow? -- they are very different. Some of the new blues are crosses with tomatoes that also qualify as purple or black. The effort there is to get that great taste into these new packages.
What else are people buying this year?
People came after the Berkeley Tie Die. They go for A) the wild and wonderful new things we try to introduce every year, like the blues, and B) the classics -- Cherokee Purple, Carmello, Sungold, Black Krim, Pineapple, Jaune Flamme, San Marzano.
April 5 and 6 at Grow Native Nursery, Constitution Avenue and Davis Avenue, Westwood.
April 7 and 8, Descanso Gardens, 1418 Descanso Dr., La Canada Flintridge.
April 12 and 13, Otto & Sons Nursery, 1835 E. Guiberson Road, Fillmore.
April 13 and 14, Cornerstone Sonoma, 23570 Arnold Dr., Sonoma.
May 4 and 5, Greenstreet Gardens, Alexandria, Va.
May 4 and 5, Greenstreet Gardens, Lothian, Md.