Q and A: Tomatomania’s Scott Daigre Shares His Top Tomato Picks and Explains Blue Tomatoes

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Scott was so busy this year dealing with the national expansion of Tomatomania that we missed our traditional on-air pre-planting conversation with him.   So he kindly consented to participate in a Q and A for us.

Scott Headshot Litchfield 2011

How many Tomatomania events do you have now in Southern California?

We’ll have 9 scheduled events in SoCal this year, and a couple surprise pop ups this year too if our greenhouse schedule works the way we hope it will.

I understand you’ve expanded outside of Southern California.  Where else do you go over the course of the season?

We’ll be in Northern California (in Sonoma) at Cornerstone Sonoma, a beautiful garden destination.  We had plans to initiate a new sale south of San Francisco but that’ll wait till next year.  Then we go to the east coast for sales in Maryland and Virginia.

Total number of seedlings you are putting out this year?

I think we’ll send 50,000 plants home to gardens this year.

Your top 3-5 can’t miss tomatoes for SoCal.  Early, Mid and Late Season

Gardener’s Delight – a red cherry for the earliest harvest ever.  A European heirloom that’s great in coastal gardens because it’s quick but it thrives in my hot Ojai fields too.
Jaune Flamee – great early-midseason choice.  French heirloom, smallish, orange and very productive

Carmello – Mid season.  Perfect mid-sized red that’s multi purpose

Vorlon – a deep dark black cross between Cherokee Purple and Pruden’s Purple.  It’s the only large beefsteak I like BETTER than Cherokee Purple so that won’t make this list.  Gorgeous, early for a beefsteak and delicious

Gold Medal –   A red/yellow bi-color that’s worth waiting for.  End of the season.

For more of Scott’s advice and tips, keep reading!

Is there anything new this year?

Blue tomatoes are in this year and there are several that we’re anxious to try.  

Who discovered them?

The blue gene that carries more healthy anthocyanins was isolated a few years ago at Oregon State, a leader in tomato hybridization.  It came from a wild tomato.  Crosses and selection for color resulted in different sizes, shapes and color combinations.  Brad Gates, a northern California hybridizer, and several others around the country are now experimenting with this color and genetic line.

They’re definitely blue.  Some are almost black or eggplant-colored.  Some now are blue blending to chocolate or blue to red and there is even a blue to yellow variety first called Siberian Tiger.  The inside flesh is generally orange or red but look for bi-colors coming soon.

Do we need a certain micro-climate to grow the blues?

It’s still early to answer where these will do best.  We’ll all have to experiment with these in our own gardens and the success rates should mirror the production results we’ve had with other varieties, sizes etc.

What else are you excited about?

In terms of other new varieties, look for a new red hybrid called Super Sauce, a two pound sauce tomato.  And Sweet Treats, a pink cherry that knocked our socks off in trials last year.  Also grafted tomatoes, a good number of varieties, are now gaining favor among gardeners and should help those folks who have some disease problems that have plagued their seasons in the past. These should be more productive and vigorous than their own-root counterparts.

How does a new tomato move from oddity to sensation?

It has to taste good.  Pure and simple.  It can be the wildest color ever but if it doesn’t taste great it will disappear.

If we want to grow for canning what are some good varieties to choose?

Well, I always like to say that any variety can be used for canning and that’s true but it’s easy to see that paste or paste-type tomatoes are the easiest to process. They also are drier and have a higher mass to liquid ratio.  Enchantment, Juliet, Fresh Salsa, Black Truffle, Black Pear, Red Pear Piriform and Big Mama are a few that we love in addition to the classic San Marzano, Viva Italia, Health Kick and other Roma types.

Most abundant?  Easiest to grow?

If your goal is an abundant crop of tomatoes, start that strategy by growing cherries and varieties that will produce small to mid-sized fruit (6-12 oz.) Carmello fits here, as does Siberian, Black Prince, Lemon Boy, Green Zebra, Red Lightning, Red Boar, and cherries like Sun Sugar, Sugar Snack and Green Doctors.  You’ll have way too many tomatoes.

And if you have challenges growing tomatoes given your garden situation, light, heat etc., growing the hybrids may be the best strategy for you.  Champion, Celebrity, Sungold, Better Boy.  These classics come with some disease resistance that could help make the season easier and more successful.

Can a bush (determinate) plant yield as many tomatoes as a vining (indeterminate) plant?

Surprisingly, yes.  Most determinate plants (most are hybrids) are bred to be extra productive so they pack more fruit on a small plant.  Follow great growing practice and be a vigilant farmer.  Smaller varieties often outpace larger vining plants.  Sweet Tangerine, Husky Red and Health Kick come to mind.