For Ojai-based tomato expert and self-described “tomatomaniac” Scott Daigre, there is no such dilemma as having “too many tomatoes.” Every year, Daigre hosts Tomatomania, a traveling pop-up sale of hundreds of heirloom and hybrid tomato seedlings. We recently spoke with Daigre, author of the new book “Tomatomania! A Fresh Approach to Celebrating Tomatoes in the Garden and in the Kitchen” and asked him for some tips on growing tomatoes. Tomatomania begins Friday at Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar.
How do you choose a tomato plant that is right for you?
What is your strategy? When do you want to pick your tomatoes? Early July or late August? What do you want to eat? How big can your plant be? Are you going on vacation? What color tomato will your kid eat? Plant a little bit of everything: A cherry, a midsize, a big beefsteak heirloom. A lot of the information you need is on the label.
Can you recommend some fail-safe tomatoes for California?
Southern California reliables: Black Cherry. A small early red Stupice heirloom that’s the first thing to come in and lasts through fall. A medium-to-large orange hybrid called Sweet Tangerine. The plant is not small or large but sturdy and stocky. A little French market tomato called Jaune Flamme is phenomenal. For larger ones, you can’t do much better than Cherokee Purple. Yellow Brandywine is another one that we hear good things about all the time. It’s my favorite of the whole lot.
To pinch or not to pinch?
It’s a major question. Pinching is truly a strategy. Generally speaking, people who are growing tomatoes on the coast and want to heat up a plant should pinch. More sun gets to the center of the plant that way. Inland gardeners should pinch less as the plants need shade. Most of us try to put too many tomatoes in too little space. It creates a clump of branching leaves and doesn’t allow airflow. If you’re planting tightly, you have to pinch because otherwise the leaves get too thick. I think it’s a good idea to pinch down low so you get air circulation under the plant.
How much water do tomatoes really need?
With water at the forefront of everyone’s mind, people think they can’t grow tomatoes because they need too much water. Treat tomatoes like your drought-tolerant perennials. You want to water deeply and infrequently. Consider the site. Are you on a hillside in Eagle Rock? The Valley floor? The coast where it’s moist and cool? Know your garden and soil situation. A container is very different from a garden. What the plant wants is to soak and then dry out. As gardeners we want our plants to be perky and beautiful. When the leaves start to yellow and droop, the first thing we do is grab the hose. The plant is not always going to be perky.
You mentioned containers. Any advice?
Start with a high quality potting soil. Amend that soil with compost and animal manure. The container needs to be large and it has to have drainage. The container plant wants full sun but the roots want to be cool. It’s better if the container is made of wood or pulp because those won’t heat up. A ceramic pot may not be your best choice. Plastic is the worst. If you’re going to use plastic, buffer the pot so it doesn’t heat up to intolerable temperatures on your driveway. Because you have created perfect soil and drainage, you will need to water more. At the height of summer, a container tomato may require water every day. Additionally, you need to fertilize every 10 days. Plant smaller tomatoes. You’ll get more of them!
Tomatomania plant sales
March 6-8: Roger’s Gardens, 2301 San Joaquin Hills Road, Corona del Mar
March 20-22: Tapia Brothers Farm Stand, 5251 Hayvenhurst Ave., Encino
March 28: Grow Native Nursery, Constitution and Davis avenues, Westwood
March 28-29: Descanso Gardens, 1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge
April 8: Surfas Culinary District, 8777 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City
April 11-12: Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, 1500 N. College Ave., Claremont
April 18: South Coast Botanic Garden, 26300 Crenshaw Blvd., Palos Verdes