The Accidental Tomato Farmer

In April, I wrote about not planting a garden because of my black thumb. An unexpected visitor changed my mind for me.

I’m no good with plants. They die before they have a chance to really get to know me, which is why I worried about the saw tooth oak sapling I ordered this spring from the Arbor Day Foundation. I followed its care directions to the letter – planting it properly in my backyard, giving it a good, heavy watering every two weeks. It paid off – by August, I had a little tree bursting with bright green, healthy leaves.

I also had something growing under my composter. So the last time I gave my tree its good soak, I vowed to pull the big bad weed. That is, until I noticed something: these little orbs growing from the weeds: cherry tomatoes. It wasn’t a weed. It was a vine.

“The seed could have been brought in by birds or a critter like a squirrel, chipmunk.  It might have been brought in by rain water, blowing rain, wind,” says Jerome Frecon, Gloucester County Extension Department head for Rutgers’ New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, which is holding its annual Great Tomato Tasting on August 26. “It probably germinated because it has been so wet.” Another possibility: it fell out of my composter, into which I threw some rotten cherry tomatoes last summer.

Frecon says I don’t have to do anything to help my tomato plant continue to grow. The fruit are already on the vine. If I want to make sure they come back next year, I’d have to dig up the plant and keep it in a warm climate all year.

Maybe I will. Or maybe I’ll rely on good luck again next year. In either case, I’ll be making some backyard-fresh salads this September.

For a great memoir about a real tomato guy, check out Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer by Tim Stark. He’s an accidental farmer in the “I left my job and started farming” sense, not the “I looked outside and found a tomato plant.” I’m sure his tomatoes taste much better than mine.

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