Tomatomania!: A Fresh Approach to Celebrating Tomatoes in the Garden and in the Kitchen

Tomatomania!: A Fresh Approach to Celebrating Tomatoes in the Garden and in the Kitchen

by Scott Daigre, Jenn Garbee


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Every spring, thousands of self-described "'maniacs" gather for a series of multi-day garden events for the largest tomato seedling sale in the nation: Tomatomania! CEOs and soccer moms, grandmothers and hipsters, hardcore gardeners and eager first-timers—folks from every walk of life unite to celebrate this energetic rite of spring and their shared love of tomatoes.

In this practical and fun guide, Tomatomania! owner Scott Daigre provides a peek into his Ojai, California, tomato patch and details a "reality gardening" approach to growing the world's favorite summer treat. Tomatomania! walks readers through every step of the tomato gardening process, from the earliest planning stages to those final satisfying kitchen table moments of the season.

Including 20 simple yet unique recipes and numerous kitchen tips to get the most out of your tomato harvest, this comprehensive guide to growing and cooking with tomatoes will turn you, too, into a proud 'maniac!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250057280
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 01/27/2015
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 271,911
Product dimensions: 7.40(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

SCOTT DAIGRE, avid gardener, sometimes farmer and enthusiastic landscape designer, is happiest when showcasing rare and classic tomato varieties as owner and producer of Tomatomania, the world's largest tomato seedling sale.

JENN GARBEE is a food and culture journalist, editor, and burgeoning 'maniac in Los Angeles. She is a regular contributor to numerous publications, the author of Secret Suppers, and co-author of several lifestyle books and chef cookbooks.

Read an Excerpt


A Fresh Approach to Celebrating Tomatoes in the Garden and in the Kitchen

By Scott Daigre, Jenn Garbee, Sam Hamann

St. Martin's Griffin

Copyright © 2015 Scott Daigre and Jenn Garbee
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-6102-2


All Systems Go?

Considering your options and finding the perfect spot for your garden

Is your garden tomato-ready? Lace up your boots! Let's get out there and find out. It's time to consider how your site, your soil, and the sun's path through your garden (some of which might have changed in recent seasons) affects your ability to grow tomatoes. Yep, time to think like a tomato plant.

First, I'll challenge you to choose the best site for your new garden, or your next garden, if you've grown tomatoes before. Look closely. What do you have to work with? What gets in the way? How can you use both to your advantage? Assessing your site is a crucial step toward a successful summer in the tomato garden.

After that, I'll help you decide how you want, or need, to grow your tomatoes. In the ground? Containers? Raised beds? Terraces? A hillside? What about hydroponics? (Sorry, that's a different book.) Maybe you have multiple spaces to plant, which is terrific. There are a lot of options to consider, and any of these methods can result in a great harvest.

And experienced growers, before you flip right past this chapter, let me ask you: Where will you plant your tomatoes this year? If you've grown tomatoes before—especially if you've grown tomatoes before—reassessing your environment can be a game changer.

Have those boots on yet?

OK, So You're a Farmer Now ...

Well then, tomato farmer, let's start at the very beginning. Where will you plant your tomatoes? Simple enough question, right?

Faced with that question, many of you seasoned veterans will trot right out and point to your usual summer garden spot—the one now covered with weeds—and call it a day. But remember, just because that plot is the sunniest, or a safe distance from the trampoline, doesn't mean tomato plants are going to love it there again this season.

Let me ask you this: How was your harvest last year? How many years have you grown tomatoes in that space? It might be time for a change.

Sure, if you add compost like a fiend, thereby keeping the soil supremely active all year, you might be able to adequately rejuvenate the soil and reduce some of the lingering disease and pest problems that can challenge us in the growing season. But who does that, really? Be honest. If you've seen a decline in plant growth, vitality, and harvest amounts in the last few years, your best move toward a successful harvest this summer may be to, well, move it.

Do what farmers do: Rotate your crops. Prepare multiple spaces, or heck, multiple pots, that can host different combinations of vegetables in successive years. This is how you keep the soil healthy and grow terrific produce.

New tomato gardeners, you may not have to worry about this in your first season, but you'll want to pay attention to this concept in the future as you become hopelessly obsessed with growing home-grown tomatoes. Trust me on this one.

Find the Sweet Spot

Okay, but move or start the garden where exactly? We all have only a hundred square feet when we want a hundred acres, right? Tomatoes need sun—full sun—in order to be the most productive, healthy plants they can be. That's the cardinal rule of tomato placement. Find that spot.

In some established gardens, it could be as simple as moving from one corner of your veggie bed to another. Or, if you use multiple raised beds, planting your tomatoes in beds three and four instead of one and two. Just take a minute to look at the garden with a new set of eyes and evaluate the basics. I'm betting you can find another sunny option.

Case in point, when my partner, Sam, and I moved into our first home I planted tomatoes everywhere. Everywhere. Desperate to recruit more heirloom space, I even yanked up the concrete in the middle of the driveway to plant seedlings. (Don't believe a word Sam says; the neighbors were absolutely thrilled.)

But "full sun" doesn't mean tomatoes need hot sun all day long. Commercial tomatoes are a field crop, in the sun from dawn to dusk. The varieties that thrive in commercial fields have been bred for that. In our home gardens, most varieties will be quite happy with liberal amounts of sun, but it's not imperative to provide all-day exposure in order to have a successful season.

In fact, many varieties, especially heirlooms that come from more temperate parts of the world, may not like intense and constant sun exposure. Your plants are likely to look better, and produce tomatoes longer, if not completely sun-stressed every day of the season.

"Full sun" in homegrown tomato lingo actually means six to eight hours of uninterrupted sun a day. That's easier to find in your garden than twelve hours. It means that spot with morning and midday sun could be perfect. And the sunny hours don't need to be concurrent. Exposure from 8:00 A.M. until 11:00 A.M. and 2:00 A.M. until 6:00 A.M. qualifies just fine. If you get to make a choice between planting in a location with morning, midday, or late-afternoon sun, choose the warmest sunny stretch of the day.

Branching Out

As you look for the perfect spot, here are a few other things to consider:

* Dig a little. Carry your shovel with you as you look for new tomato-growing opportunities. When you find a promising spot, try to dig a hole. If that soil is unyielding, rocky, all sand, or way too wet, you may want to scratch it off the list and move on.

* That six-foot tree you planted in the corner of the yard must be larger than it was last year, right? Consider that and all other potential shadow positions in high summer. Canyon walls, apartments next door, and that new play structure might all affect garden exposure and hours of direct sun. (And tree roots mean extra competition, too!)

* Reflected brightness and retained heat from a light-colored wall or fence can do wonders to increase the productivity of your season. Use that to your advantage.

* Where's the rain going? Did you change the garden grade when you put in that putting green or patio? Tree growth and other interruptions in sun exposure are generally easy to see and assess. Grade changes, not so much. Pay attention to where water gathers in a generous rainstorm or after a sprinkler soaking. That's not where you want your tomato garden to be.

* Brrrrr! If you have a large property or garden area, that wet area may also be the lowest place on your property, topographically speaking. That may also mean it is the coldest part of the garden—another reason to avoid the space.

* If you live in an area that gets liberal summer rain (and even if you don't), can you plant on a hill, berm, or even a slight slope of any kind? It doesn't have to be huge. Most of you have been hilling up rows in your garden since Mr. McGregor was a kid, right? Hillside or berm planting is especially beneficial for rainy areas because when it gets too wet, tomatoes get exactly what they want: sharp drainage. The first tomatoes ever found, the precursors of Tomatomania, are generally thought to have been found on a hillside in South America.

* Do you have a new backyard wind tunnel NASA doesn't know about? Be they winds that come "whippin' down the plain" or just a subtle ocean breeze, air movement cools things off. That's not your goal. Look for natural windbreaks and plant behind a garden shed, athick row of hedges, or a sturdy fence. Or create your own temporary screen, just like you do when you go to the beach really early in the season. (You know this works.) You'll still get some beneficial air circulation but a screen will raise garden temperatures a good deal, and you'll see the proof when it's time to harvest.

* Did you rescue a puppy who likes to dig in the garden? Yes, even lifestyle changes can require you to move the garden or change your growing patterns.

Field Envy

Unless you own a farm (or a private island somewhere), space is almost always an issue when you are looking for new potential garden plots. So maybe you don't need to move your entire veggie garden. Tomatoes are more than happy to strike out on their own. What about the small, but sunny, space behind the garage, the patio outside the kitchen door, or the gravel area on the far side of the house? Leave the corn where it is. Consider creating your very own tomato annex.

If all this reaps no reward, there's always the "shared" space possibility for the summer season. Could you squeeze some tomatoes into the rose garden? Sneak them in while your partner (the rose lover) is out shopping. What about the intermittent spaces in perennial plantings (among the daylilies, irises, or lavender), or in borders where colorful annuals like alyssum, sunflowers, and calendulas thrive each season? Those are probably planted in full sun and yes, your tomatoes could be happy there. Before all is lost, are you friendly with your neighbor who's got five hundred square feet of prime sunny space just across the fence? Hey, it's worth a shot.

Nothing? Then leave the soil in your current garden barren for a season or two. Or three. It's what you can do. Layer the entire existing garden with compost, leaves, hay, or other rich mulch—or a wonderful combo of all those organic ingredients. Lay it on thick, a good eight to ten inches.

Add some fertilizer to help activate the soil while it waits (patiently!) for future tomatoes. Plant this year's crop in containers or grow bags situated right on top of your current space. Do this for even a couple of seasons, and you'll address the tired or diseased soil question and hopefully create a new, vibrant garden in its place. I'll give you more hints on growing in containers next.

Getting Potted

Whether you're planting two dozen of your favorite heirlooms in pulp pots on top of last year's vegetable garden, or a single dependable hybrid in that French urn by the back door, you've made a good move. Sure, it's hard to beat Mother Earth. But there are a lot of reasons why container growing is a great idea.

For starters, pots are mobile, so it's possible to move them to where conditions are best as the season goes along and if the need arises. You also have the opportunity to (and must) create a perfect soil mix for your plants. You won't have either option in the garden. Other benefits include sharp drainage, which is almost assured.

And here's a biggie: Soil in a pot warms more quickly than in the ground. Tomatoes in pots will generally ripen ten to fourteen days earlier than the same variety planted in the ground. Do I need to repeat that one for you gardeners on the beach or the Canadian border? Growing in containers could be the key to a good season if your climate requires a quick turnaround.

So growing "in the box" is definitely not a lesser choice, just a different one. What makes a good container? Anything that holds soil and has a drain or drainage holes, for a start. With that as a guide, and adherence to just a few other rules, many things work well. We'll get into specific types of containers later, but in the meantime, here are a few things to think about as you scout for viable container space.

Containers 101

* You need to use a large pot, 15 by 15 inches at a minimum. Bigger is better. Tomato plants will not grow well in a six-inch terra cotta pot, people! (Can you tell I've diagnosed that malady way too often?)

* Only one plant per pot. Yes, it will look silly at first, but not for long.

* Look for pots made of a material that won't heat up in high summer temperatures. Pulp pots, wine barrels, redwood boxes, and similar containers are great choices.

* Make smart choices as to varieties. We'll talk about that in the next chapter.

* Mix a nutrient-rich growing medium for your containers.

Gardener Alert!

Before you decide to plant in containers, know this: Your container tomatoes can require more of you, the gardener, than plants in the ground. This is a growing situation that needs to be managed more closely. For those of you who completely automate your watering system and such, you're off the hook to some degree. But not entirely.

Raised Up, But Not Too High

Raised beds are sort of a garden/container hybrid, and can be employed almost anywhere when you decide to start, move, or enlarge your garden. Most beds equate to a really big pot. The extra volume helps roots stay cooler and provides a lot of room for growth. It also offers sharp drainage while retaining some moisture—a good thing.

Keep in mind that raised beds will usually drain faster than your native soil, especially if you've been aggressive and built thirty-inch-tall boxes. That also means you will need to water more frequently than in the non-raised beds, as with any pot, which we'll get to in the sidebar. If your beds are open at the bottom (with a hardware cloth or wire screen to keep burrowing critters out), the roots should eventually get into the native soil, so all's good. If your thirty-inch boxes are parked on the driveway next to your four-wheel hybrid, no worries there, they will be just fine.

If you're thinking that the whole raised-bed situation seems too formal, way too expensive, or too time-consuming to handle right now, know that you can make a raised bed very easily. We'll get to that, too.

Partly Cloudy, with a Chance of Tomatoes

While you examine your site, soil, and container options, there is one more reality to consider before we move ahead, especially if you're growing tomatoes for the first time: Where exactly do you live on this Google map of ours? Juneau or Johannesburg? The U.S. Gulf Coast or South America? Sydney? London? Maybe you live in a landlocked area known for its searing heat or in a hazy coastal climate.

The good news is that tomatoes grow well all over the world: hot places, cooler places, wet places, and dry places. But the climate you live in has everything to do with when your season starts (and ends) and thus, what varieties might be great choices for you. The seasonal weather patterns that your plants experience through the growing season also become a critical part of how successful your harvest will be. I trust you farmers out there are nodding in agreement.

Here's a tomato gardener's dream: a wonderfully consistent, hot but not too hot summer, with nice early-morning breezes and gentle soaking rains (at perfectly timed intervals) to guide your tomato plants through to a perfect harvest. Yeah, that'll happen!

Here are some curveballs the weather may throw at you during the season:


Challenge: to outsmart consistent high heat or unpredictable heat waves that can prevent pollination and a good harvest. Pollination chances are greatly reduced as temperatures climb up over ninety degrees. The plant (pollen) can actually become infertile.

For starters, plant in shifts. If you plant a few seedlings each week for three to six weeks, flowers will appear in succession, and hopefully most flowers will dodge high-heat cycles. Succession-planting techniques work. While six weeks of planting isn't practical in short season zones, in many warmer climates, planting a new crop in mid-summer can extend the harvest through the fall.


Excerpted from Tomatomania! by Scott Daigre, Jenn Garbee, Sam Hamann. Copyright © 2015 Scott Daigre and Jenn Garbee. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Griffin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

All Systems Go?

Considering your options and finding the perfect spot for your garden

Stripes, Lobes, Curves, and Trusses

So many tomatoes, what's the perfect strategy for you and your garden?

Let's Go Shopping

Tomato lingo and deciphering a tomato label

Plant Me Already!

Plant, water and feed your seedlings correctly to get a solid start

Support Your Local Tomato

Staking, tying and the "Do I pinch?" question

The Garden Doctor Is Out

Dealing with critters and other challenges in the tomato garden

You Didn't Just Pick that Tomato

Waiting for the right moment to harvest your crop

Customer Reviews