Lifestyle

Tomato season is here! (And no, we’re not joking)

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Pigletwillie’s French Black -- a meaty and intensely flavored dark red tomato with “chocolate shoulders” -- is Tomatomania’s Tomato of the Year, one of more than 200 varieties featured in its traveling show of tomato and pepper seedlings starting March 1.
(Tomatomania!)

Yes, it’s been crazy cold and wet these last few weeks, but it’ll soon be spring in Southern California, folks, so it’s got to warm up and dry out sometime.

Which means it’s time to talk tomatoes.

The first Tomatomania! event of 2019 starts March 1 in Corona del Mar.

Unfamiliar with Tomatomania? It’s a traveling seedling show that features more than 200 varieties of heirloom and hybrid tomatoes — and this year more than 100 varieties of peppers as well. Founder Scott Daigre will also introduce his tomato of the year: Pigletwillie’s French Black, “a very dark red with chocolate shoulders, juicy flesh and an intense, full-bodied meaty taste.”

Daigre, who literally wrote the book on tomatoes (it’s called “Tomatomania!,” of course), also peppers his shows with lots of “Tomato Blasts,” i.e. mini classes that cover a range of tomato-growing questions, including container growing, the best variety for your particular area, and the best way to eat your luscious harvest.

And no, even though the temps have been dipping below 40 in many parts of Southern California, Daigre says it’s not insane to be talking about tomatoes now.

“It does seem early this year because of the crazy weather, but we’re right on schedule,” he said. “This is how we’ve been doing it for years. One year we get the heat and then this year we get this.”

Gardeners should be careful about working in soggy gardens — tromping in the mud can damage your soil, so let it dry out a little before you plant and be sure to add lots of compost to your holes, Daigre said. “That great water base in the soil is going to be a plus.”

If you live in parts of Southern California where it dips below 40 at night, even in March, keep your seedlings in a protected area until the weather warms up. But get them transferred to the garden or a larger pot before they become leggy and unhealthy.

For most parts of Southern California, though, it’s fine to start planting after March 1, Daigre said. The plants won’t grow as fast as normal in this chilly weather, but they should survive. If this crazy cold persists into March and nighttime temperatures dip down around 40, Daigre suggests covering your planted seedlings at night with a cardboard box, plastic milk jug with the bottom cut out or other cold-weather protection. Just remember to take them off come morning.

Tomatomania! is the unofficial kickoff to the spring plant sale season, and a slew of spring plant sales is lined up for when your garden is ready to start planting. We’ll publish a longer list in early March, so if you have a favorite, send the details pronto — email jeanette.marantos@latimes.com — and we’ll do our best to get it included.

Tomatomania!

When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, March 1 through 10

Where: Roger’s Gardens, 2301 San Joaquin Hills Road, Corona Del Mar

Cost: Free

Other upcoming locations: March 9-10, the Water Conservation Garden, 12122 Cuyamaca College Drive W., El Cajon; March 15-17, Tapia Brothers Farm Stand, 5251 Hayvenhurst Ave., Encino; and March 22-23 Otto and Sons Nursery, 1835 E. Guiberson Road, Fillmore

Info: rogersgardens.com, tomatomania.com/​​​​

jeanette.marantos@latimes.com

@jmarantos