Friday, May 11, 2012

Free Tomatoes Taste Better

Looky what I got!
 I have to harvest this many every other day so the birds don’t eat them all.

I’m sure you’ve all read about the $64 tomato, or experienced the problem yourself when trying to create a sweet, juicy, home-grown tomato from scratch. During our first couple of vegetable-growing years, our tomatoes were running in the $50 to $80 range (each!), factoring in the cost of building materials, soil, seeds, and water, plus volumes of blood, sweat, and tears. We tried to grow the big traditional plants with big juicy tomatoes, like Beefsteak and Brandywine. After months of waiting, we were lucky to get three or four thick-skinned, desiccated fruits on each plant.
This is all we got in 2008.

I gave up for a year, giving both the soil and myself a rest from tomatoes, and then tried again. This time I went to the heirloom seed catalogs and the native seed suppliers. Surely our predecessors must have grown tomatoes successfully, long before genetic engineering, hydroponics, and high-efficiency commercial greenhouses. I tried four different desert-adapted varieties and four Mediterranean varieties over the course of the next few years. Most plants didn’t survive to flower, and those that did had a few fruits but nothing better than we’d seen in the first round. The one remarkable success was with the yellow pear tomato vines, which grew to six feet in two months, and bore hundreds of tiny fruit.
This year I took another break from tomato growing, and was surprised to see the little tomato sprouts growing right up in the middle of the winter beans last November. When they shot up in all directions with the first warm weather, I thought maybe they were more of the yellow pear tomatoes, reappearing from seeds tossed in the compost pile.

But here are the tomatoes:
They are not pears, and they are not yellow.

I think these are Sun Gold tomatoes. I might have tried planting a Sun Gold in the past, but I don’t remember anything coming of it. Did it take three years for the seeds I planted to wake up and germinate, or are these different seeds contributed by our wild bird population?

Anyway, I’m calling these free tomatoes. I didn’t plant them, feed them, or encourage them in any way, but the plants are already pushing through the top of the 5-foot shade cover on the bed. And they are good and sweet. Not very convenient for slicing on a sandwich, but perfect for salads or just snacking by the handful.

Maybe things just taste better when they’re free!



  1. It happens all over the world!
    Some years tomato plants grow like mad here and others the French say..Boff!Tom plants are only reliable to a certain extent in the greenhouse.I have had in a previous garden some limited success with tom plants as I did have a greenhouse and this year,in a different garden, for the first time I have got three very weedy seedlings still on a windowsill.I don't think they are worth potting up.
    I know what you mean by free tomato plants as I used to find seedlings growing in my compost heap and i would pot them up too.
    I think that the problem here with tomato plants is that unless we are exceptionally lucky with the weather our frost free growing season is too short and the climate is just not warm enough.
    Plus all the people I know who have TRIED to grow Brandywine have NEVER been happy with the result.

  2. Serendipity at work!
    I have yet to sow my seed but over here that's fine for outdoor varieties. Without a greenhouse I'm waiting for the weather to warm up.
    Pete says that tomoatoes grow in cracks in the rocks in the Bahamas after the "fields" have been slash and burnt.

  3. Hi Snippa, Wow, that would be quite a surprise to see them popping up after burning. Maybe I need to stop babying the tomatoes and toss some seeds on dry rocks.

  4. Your free tomatoes look delicious!

    I have been thinking about trying one of those Topsy turvy tomato planters for the last few years; they look so great on the commercials! I have some seedlings on the covered deck that I need to transplant in the next week or two. It's either going to be one of those or a raised bed. Tomatoes, and herbs in railing planters are my gardening plans for this year. If all goes well, perhaps I will add lettuce and cucs next!