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Tomatomania starts earlier than ever, with sales kicking off this weekend

Tomatomania harvest at the Starter Farm test garden in Santa Ynez
Tomatomania’s sales events are returning again this year, starting this weekend, with more than 150 unique tomato varieties, as evidenced by last year’s harvest from the Starter Farm, one of its test gardens, in Santa Ynez.
(Tomatomania)

Spring is elbowing its way early into Southern California this year, which means that Tomatomania, the traditional kickoff for summer-hungry gardeners, is following right behind, with its first sales this weekend at Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar.

This is the earliest Tomatomania has started in its nearly 30-year history, with 11 sales events scheduled between Santa Barbara and San Diego counties, said owner and producer Scott Daigre. Its traditional one- to three-day pop-up sales events will feature 150 to 250 varieties of tomatoes and up to 50 varieties of peppers, but this year it also is partnering with several nurseries to do longer “curated” sales with at least 50 unique tomato varieties, he said.

Thorburn’s Terra Cotta, an heirloom tomato featured in the 1893 seed catalog of James Thorburn of New York, is Tomatomania’s 2020 pick for Tomato of the Year, based on its excellent flavor, heavy production and early harvest.
(Tomatomania)

2020 Tomato of the Year
Tomatomania’s coveted Tomato of the Year designation goes to an heirloom variety known as Thorburn’s Terra Cotta, which it has been selling since 2017, Daigre said. The tomato has been overlooked in the past, he said, because its exterior is, well, more terracotta-colored than red, and the flesh inside is green and pink.

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The tomato was first introduced in 1893, on the cover of James Thorburn of New York’s seed catalog, but it seemed to disappear after that. Daigre guesses it fell out of favor as people flocked to grow new deep-red varieties. Food historian and author Dr. William Woys Weaver reintroduced the variety to the heirloom seed market, and Tomatomania brought it into the fold in 2017.

“It’s a gorgeous color really, but it’s been flying under the radar for the past three years,” Daigre said. “The taste is amazing, it has great production and it’s ready early — just 75 days — which is unusual for a larger tomato. That’s why we’re so excited to highlight it this year. Our goal is to find that special tomato nobody knows about yet and sing its praises.”

Tomatomania is including many more varieties of sweet and mild peppers in its 2020 sales, including the owner's favorite, the new Habanada pepper created by Row 7 Seeds, which captures the flavor of the fiery habanero pepper minus the heat.
(Tomatomania)

More sweet peppers this year
Tomatomania has long offered fiery “skull-and-crossbones peppers,” but this year it’s trying to even out its offerings with more sweet and mild varieties. Daigre’s favorite is a new pepper created by Row 7 Seeds called the Habanada, which promises “all the floral sweetness of the famous habanero, minus the burn.”

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Row 7 Seed Company, created by breeder Michael Mazourek, seeds man Matthew Goldfarb and New York chef Dan Barber, author of The Third Plate, is focused on breeding seeds for taste, Daigre said, “which unfortunately has not been done in seed companies for a very long time.”

Planting provisos

With temperatures pushing the 80s, gardeners will be tempted to start planting warm-season crops right away, and that’s fine, Daigre said. Just be sure to keep an eye on the weather report and bundle up your little seedlings if night-time temperatures drop below 40 degrees.

The Los Angeles region is expected to see the first measurable rain of February starting Friday. But the shrinking snowpack is concerning climatologists.

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Important note: Be sure to plant your tomatoes with an extra slug of water, since our dry winter did not create a mud-luscious spring in SoCal. Gardeners have been spoiled the last couple of years, because the ground was thoroughly soaked with winter rains, Daigre said. “So this year we need to do a little front-end work to replenish the ground supply of water in our tomato gardens.”

That means digging your tomato holes extra deep this year, and filling them once or twice with water before you plant, Daigre said, so the water seeps deep into the ground. That reservoir of water will encourage roots to grow deeper into the ground, where they’ll be better protected from the summer heat.

Daigre strongly endorses deep-watering techniques taught by master gardener Yvonne Savio, creator of the GardeninginLA.net blog, and “Grow Tomatoes Easily” blogger “Dave the Tomato Guy” Freed.

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Savio suggests burying 5-gallon nursery buckets, the types with holes in the bottom, beside her vegetables so she can fill the buckets with water once a week to send water deeper into the ground. Freed uses a similar technique by burying perforated, 4-inch-diameter plastic pipes about 18 to 20 inches in the ground, which he fills with water once or twice a week.

David Freed spent most of his adult life in the restaurant business, but when he sold the 8th Street Grill, his University Park coffee shop, in 2007, he discovered there were plenty of other things to do with his time.

Tomatomania's selection of cherry tomatoes come in every color and multiple sizes.
(Brian Reed)

Tomatomania events

Here, broken down by county, are the dates and locations for Tomatomania’s 2020 Southern California events. Note that the shorter “pop-up” events have a larger selection of varieties:

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Los Angeles County

March 7-8
Fig Earth Supply, 3577 N. Figueroa St., Mount Washington area of northeast L.A., figearthsupply.com

March 13-15
Tapia Bros. Farm, 5251 Hayvenhurst Ave., Encino, (A smaller selection of Tomatomania varieties will remain on sale through April 15.) tomatomania.com/encino

March 27-29
Descanso Gardens, 1418 Descano Drive, La Cañada Flintridge, descansogardens.com

Orange County

Feb. 28-March 8
Roger’s Gardens, 2301 San Joaquin Hills Road, Corona del Mar, rogersgardens.com

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San Diego County

March 7-8
Water Conservation Garden, 12122 Cuyamaca College Drive West, El Cajon, thegarden.org

March 14-April 15
Mission Hills Nursery, 1525 Fort Stockton Drive, San Diego, missionhillsnursery.com

April 4-5
San Diego Botanic Garden, 230 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas, sdbgarden.org

Santa Barbara County

April 4-5
Seaside Gardens, 37800 Via Real, Carpinteria, seaside-gardens.com

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Ventura County

March 20-21
Otto and Sons Nursery, 1835 E. Guiberson Road, Fillmore, ottoandsonsnursery.com

March 28-29
Underwood Farm Market, 5696 E. Los Angeles Ave., Somis, underwoodfamilyfarms.com

April 4
Topa Mountain Winery, 821 W. Ojai Ave., Ojai, topamountainwinery.com


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