Monday, May 9, 2016

Love those volunteers!

The best cherry tomato plant in our garden isn’t in our garden at all. It’s growing in the middle of the lawn. I noticed it in January and since then I’ve watched it grow taller, fuller and more laden with fruit than any of the well-tended cherry tomato plants in the garden.

Volunteer tomato plant.  Big and getting bigger!

How this particular plant came to be growing in the middle of our weedy lawn is a mystery. It could have come from a seed deposited by a bird, squirrel or some other tomato-nibbling critter or I suppose we could have tracked it there on our shoes.

What’s not a mystery, however, is how well it’s doing. It’s doing amazing. This lone volunteer plant – grown without soil amendments and watered only by raindrops - produces more ripe, red, bite-size morsels of flavorful goodness than any of the cherry tomatoes in my husband Ralph’s well-tended, irrigated garden.

That’s not to say Ralph did anything wrong. My husband is an adept gardener with an impressive ability to produce a wide variety of lush edibles, but even the most dedicated gardener can be bested by a strong willed plant. The way I see it, the cherry tomato seed that took root and grew in our weedy lawn was one heck of a resolute sprout, determined to strive and indeed thrive in the precise place it happened to land.

A less self-assured person might feel defeated by having his gardening efforts upstaged by nature, but my husband is not like that.

“Have you seen how many tomatoes that plant in the lawn has?” he recently asked.

Pointing to the basket on the kitchen counter, I replied, “Sure have. I picked these a little while ago, and that’s just some of what I could have picked. There are so many more.”

And that's only some of the ripe fruit on our volunteer tomato plant!

Our volunteer plant is a veritable jungle of verdant vitality. Shortly after I discovered the young sprout growing far away from the garden, I knew it needed protection from the lawn mower and car so Ralph encircled it with a wire tomato cage. Initially, the enclosure provided support but soon the spiral wires began to bend and lean under the weight of the plant’s ever-expanding limbs. A thick bamboo pole pounded into the ground helped hold the wired cage upright but it didn’t do anything to relieve the sprawl.

A bamboo pole helped keep the tomato cage from falling over

Tomato limbs soon poked through the tomato cage holes. Limbs were stretching to the left. Limbs were stretching to the right. Tomato vines reached for the sky and spread across the ground. Rather than pester Ralph to fashion another fix, I came up with my own solution. I positioned two worn out rattan and iron chairs across from each other with the plant in the middle and used the chairs’ iron frames as trellises.

Some old, worn out chairs add support to the vine's sprawling limbs

The chairs worked great…for about a week. That’s how short a time it took the tomato vine jungle to take over. The chairs vanished as volunteer vines gobbled them up with wild cherry tomato vigor.

I’ve been doing a bit of gobbling myself lately, devouring cherry tomatoes raw as well as stir-fried and roasted. I love the way these juicy orbs taste when cooked slowly with slices of garlic, chunks of fresh pineapple, a few mushrooms and small chunks of onion. Each bite feels like a gift.

And that’s exactly what it is – a sweet gift of nature – an unexpected treasure growing with abandon in an unlikely spot. The best cherry tomato plant in our garden is not in our garden at all but that only makes it more special.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like you were gifted a Native Florida Wild Everglades plant. They volunteer ALL over my garden (even through winter). Once you plant one, Mother Nature takes care of the rest (birds love them too).