Tomato passion needs warmth to grow

By Jennifer E. Beaver

Lust for America’s favorite garden edible struck early this year.
At the end of February, people started asking if it was time to plant tomatoes. The answer is no, not until days and nights are consistently warm. Mid-April, perhaps. Drool all you want at displays at big box stores and local nurseries. Buy those seductive little plants if you must. Just don’t expect them to grow. And don’t be heartbroken if those hopeful little yellow flowers fall off due to cold or lack of pollination.
While you’re waiting, how about some tomato fantasy?
Start thinking about what you want. My suggestion? At least one cherry tomato for tossing in salads and eating off the vine. One medium, reliable slicer that will carry you through when everything else gets a virus. One plum for homemade sauce. And one large heirloom that will delight your taste buds if it doesn’t succumb to blight, insects or other unknown malady.
I’m intrigued by a new offering from Territorial Seed ( They’ve grafted two different tomatoes onto one sturdy rootstock. As they explain on their website, “Grafted vegetables are created when the top part of one plant (the scion) is attached to the root system of another plant (the rootstock). The rootstock contributes vigor and disease resistance while the scion is chosen for fruit flavor and quality.” The Sungold/Sweet Million cherry combo won my heart. It’s sold out till the last half of April– a perfect time to plant!
Looking for something unusual, but local? How about Lomita? That’s where you’ll find Laurel’s Heirloom Tomato Plants ( Laurel’s operation is strictly mail order, but she does have occasional on-site sales. The first will probably be the first week in April if the weather is warm enough, and she posts the sale dates in March. Cash only, $5 per plant.
You’re thinking, “I would never pay that much for a tomato plant!” Obviously, you are not firmly in the grip of tomato passion. Where else can you get Black Prince, described as “one of the most intensely tomato-y flavored heirlooms, rich and juicy, easy to grow” or Blondkopfchen, “easily the finest tasting cherry tomato in existence?” Wherever you shop, look for sturdy plants without fruit. You read that correctly: No fruit. I know, I’m breakin’ your heart. That’s because you’re going to plant most of it below ground so it can develop a sturdy root system. Delayed passion is so much sweeter.

Jennifer E. Beaver, a Wrigley resident, is a master gardener and author of Container Gardening for California.

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