Debbie Arrington

Garden tips as Sacramento tomato season signals early success

Nothing like spring tomato flowers to get gardeners excited about the summer harvest to come.
Nothing like spring tomato flowers to get gardeners excited about the summer harvest to come. Bee file photo

For all its perplexing preseason twists, this tomato year looks like it’s off to a solid beginning.

“I think I am having my best crop ever,” said Ron Kyle of Natomas.

He’s already enjoying his 2017 harvest; Kyle reports that he picked his first ripe cherry tomatoes the week before Memorial Day.

“Some of my Celebrity plants have 30 tomatoes,” he added.

Despite the wet and wild spring weather, Kyle got off to an early start. In mid-March, he planted 34 plants in 5-gallon “grow bags” or buckets. He stuck to standard varieties with high yields: Big Beef, Celebrity, Bush Goliath, Better Boy, Big Boy and Sweet 100. One of the Big Beefs already has 18 green tomatoes.

“Some of these are as big as my fist,” he added. “Every plant has tomatoes.”

Noe Fierros of Roseville likes to get his tomatoes off to an extra early start. This year was no exception.

“I usually plant them in late January or early February,” Fierros said. “I purchase them as soon as I see them in nurseries. When I plant them, however, I place a clear plastic bag over the tomato cage.”

Fierros uses recycled dry cleaner bags as his instant greenhouses.

“This creates a hothouse effect and as the weather warms I remove the plastic bags,” he explained. “I plant a variety of tomatoes and they now all are showing fruit of various sizes. This method allows for a longer growing tomato season.”

Dale Creasey of Fair Oaks also got his tomatoes in the ground early.

“I planted four beefsteak tomatoes as soon as Rite Aid had them available,” he noted. That was mid-April.

“I now have four plants that are 2 feet tall with many blossoms,” he reported in late May.

Placer County master gardener Laurie Meyerpeter plants her tomatoes both early and late. This year, she “waited” on her first planting to the first week in March.

“I plant my tomatoes in two plantings,” she explained. “The first planting is early, in cages wrapped in plastic. Those tomatoes are about 4 feet high or more, with lots of blossoms and a few tiny developing tomatoes.

“The second planting is after the soil warms (in April) and they’re about 1 to 2 feet high with a smattering of blossoms,” she added. “There’s not a dramatic difference in when the blossoms develop but it’s fun to get tomatoes a couple of weeks earlier than my neighbor!”

Pete Frichette, the king of Sacramento’s backyard tomato farmers, added three varieties – Mrs. Maxwell’s Big Italian, Aunt Ginny’s and Trucker’s Favorite – to his usual crop of Early Girls, Better Boys and Aussies. Although he held off planting due to too much spring rain, his vines topped 4 feet by mid May.

“Overall, my vines do not seem as bushy as normal,” he noted. “The height is there, but not the overall vigor.”

“I’ve been giving some thoughts as to what constitutes or, better yet, what causes a vintage year in the wine industry,” Frichette said. “Climate or climatic variances seem to be the leading culprit. Now applying that approach to the tomato season, I get excited to see how this year turns out.”

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