Debra Prinzing

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You say Toe-MAY-toe; I say Toe-MAH-Toe

Thursday, April 9th, 2009
A cause for celebration: Hundreds of Heirloom Tomato Starts

A cause for celebration: Hundreds of Heirloom Tomato Starts

Does anyone really NEED 21 tomato plants? The answer is: OF COURSE!

If you are obsessed with having dee-lish heirloom tomatoes at your fingertips, you will want to track down Tomatomania, the largest spring sale of tomato seedlings around. It is a grassroots endeavor; the brainchild of landscape designer and Tomato addict Scott Daigre.

Shopping for the very best of heirloom tomato starts with Tomatomania founder Scott Daigre

Shopping for the very best of heirloom tomato starts with Tomatomania founder Scott Daigre

I remember meeting Scott in 2006 at the Northwest Flower & Garden Showin Seattle. I’m not really sure why a California boy was up in Seattle, but it was certainly a treat to meet him at one of my book signings. Little did I know ( I find I am saying that a lot these days ) that I would soon be Scott’s neighbor in Ventura Co., and moreover, a customer of one of his Tomatomania events.

A couple of folks, fellow Garden Writers, have kept Tomatomania on my radar. Kate Karem, formerly Cottage Living’s gardening editor and also a former LA resident, told me she used to be involved in Scott’s annual plant sales. While reading Orange Co.-based garden writer Cindy McNatt’s new “Dirt du Jour” blog, I was recently reminded to check out Scott’s event. In fact, it was a link on Cindy’s blog that pointed me to the very first Ventura County “Tomatomania” event at Otto & Sons’ nursery in the agricultural town of Fillmore, about 20 miles north of my place.

My buddy Alex, tomato fan extraordinaire

My buddy Alex, tomato fan extraordinaire

Since ours is a household of foodies, including children who have very definite opinions on all things culinary, I was psyched to again grow heirloom tomatoes (I haven’t planted any since leaving Seattle – and that’s a pretty tough tomato-growing climate). Whether someone needs as many as Alex and I acquired last Saturday is a matter of opinion.

We have room in our raised beds, so we’re going to go for it. Scott advises that backyard gardeners space tomato plants at 2-foot intervals. We can make it work, I’m sure.

The nursery sale was organized with a logical A to Z display. The only problem is that every single tomato looked healthy and vigorous; the fruit photos and descriptions made our mouths water (or at least piqued our curiosity).

Pick it, Slice it, Salt it, Eat it - Simple!

Pick it, Slice it, Salt it, Eat it - Simple!

The wagon Alex pulled for me up quickly. We loved running into Scott, he of the bright red hat, lime green shirt, and turquoise Tomatomania T-shirt. The ambassador of tomatoes is on a roll. His sales now crisscross the US and he has plans to add a few more states in 2010 (even in Texas, he says).

Here is a list of the plants we brought home in 4-inch pots. For $4 each, ours was a good investment. The neighbors are already putting in their requests for our “extras” come harvest-time:

  • Cherokee Chocolate: Mahogany-colored variety; excellent flavor, large fruit
  • Black Krim: Originally from Krim on the Black Sea of Russia; slightly flattened shape, dark-reddish mahogany color
  • Aunt Ruby’s German Green: Pink-blushed interior; green pleated exterior; handed down from Aunt Ruby Arnold, Greenville, Tennessee
  • Copia: Named in honor of the American Center for Food, Wine and Arts in Napa, California; a stabilized cross of ‘Green Zebra’ and ‘Mauve Stripe’; fine-lined golden yellow and red striped fruit
  • Beam’s Yellow Pear; Pomodoro; La Roma; Sungold Cherry
  • Sugary: Sweet, cherry-sized, oval-shaped
  • Berkeley Tie-Die: no description necessary! The name alone demanded that we plant this one
  • Black Zebra: Perfectly round, 1-1/2-2 inch fruits with deep, dark red to caramel-colored skin beneath dark green-mahogany streaks; smoky-sweet flavor
  • dscn0374Pink Accordian
  • Kellogg’s Breakfast: Round, yellow-orange fruit
  • Hillbilly Potato-Leaf: From West Virginia (natch); mild flavored beefsteak fruit that weights up to 2 lbs; orange-yellow streaked and mottled shades
  • Omar’s Lebanese: 1-2 pound pink beefsteak
  • Banana Legs: 4-inch mini banana-shaped, brilliant yellow fruit; fun for kids