Debbie Arrington

Tomato planting time seems to be changing in Sacramento. What are you doing?

How to grow 2-pound tomatoes

Pete Frichette of Sacramento shows how he grows 2-pound Aussie heirloom tomatoes with less water during the California drought.
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Pete Frichette of Sacramento shows how he grows 2-pound Aussie heirloom tomatoes with less water during the California drought.

Have you planted your tomatoes yet? This time of year, that question is a common Sacramento conversation starter – and not just among gardeners.

Everyone plants tomatoes in Sacramento. But as we know all too well, this has not been a normal weather year with double the average rainfall and wildly divergent temperatures. It’s as if we skipped spring altogether, jumping straight from almost frosty nights to 90-degree days. And that roller-coaster weather may not be over yet.

Pete Frichette, Sacramento’s king of backyard tomato know-how, is among those frustrated by chilly, wet spring weather. He often starts planting tomatoes in February. This year, the cold and rainy spring made him postpone planting for several weeks.

“I really waited this year,” Frichette said in late April. “I put a few in at the end of March. They are right at 2 feet tall and flowers galore. But a day like today is so discouraging; not the requisite bright sun and a bit on the cool side. I will put in a late crop this year. It will be my first ever.”

For generations, Sacramentans religiously planted tomatoes in mid- to late April. That was late enough to miss frost and early enough to catch rapidly warming weather before it reached “wilting hot” status.

In recent years, Sacramento tomato lovers have speculated that April planting was way too late to get a prolonged summer crop. Vines seemed to run out of steam by July. To get maximum production, March planting became our “new normal.”

But this season, thunderstorms on April 26 brought half-inch hail to some parts of town. If already in the ground, those Early Girls ran the risk of getting their leaves riddled with holes.

As for my own tomatoes, the soil in my vegetable garden was much too wet to plant in March – and most of April. I planted two Early Girls and an Aussie the day before that freak hail storm. (Fortunately, they escaped any damage.)

The rest of my tomatoes went in the ground May 12, the latest I’ve ever planted since we moved to Sacramento 18 years ago. Besides the aforementioned trio, this year’s tomato list includes one each of Sun Gold, Kumato, Big Beef, Brandy Boy (a pink potato-leaf variety), Chef’s Choice (an orange slicer) and the always-faithful Juliet, the most prolific mini-plum tomato imaginable.

I’m sure they’ll enjoy this warm weather, as long as I keep them watered. I know the Early Girls love it; they already have tiny green fruit.

How will they fare in July? I’ll have to wait and see. But May tomato planting may become my new normal – especially if we have another wet and wild winter.

Check out tips from The Sacramento Bee's Debbie Arrington for safely canning tomatoes.

Let us know

What’s happening in your garden? What did you plant this spring? And who will pick the first ripe tomato of 2017?

Tell us! Post your garden updates and observations to our SacBee Garden Facebook page. Better yet, post a photo. Or send an email to h&g@sacbee.com

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