Tough Love for (Tomato) Volunteers

Woke up this morning to heat and humidity and a strange stillness.

I am constitutionally unable to sleep comfortably with the windows closed in summer–I think it’s odd if I can’t hear the caterwauling crickets, and being shut up like that makes me feel like I’m sleeping in one of those sleezy hotels where they hand you a two-by-four along with the keys, so you can bar yourself in (OK, I’ve never stayed anyplace that bad–but Harry assures me such places exist).

So most nights, unless it’s blistering hot and humid, I leave the windows wide.  But it was already over eighty at 8am, so I got up, made coffee, and went around shutting the windows and turned on the seldom-used central air.

Then, after a little java juice to perk me up and a relatively cool place to return to, I went out and proceeded to work in the gardens for about four hours in the muggy heat.  Some days I can’t take it–but some days it feels really good to get down and dirty and sweat like crazy.

Of course Harry made his customary comment about “mad dogs and Englishmen” when I tromped back up to the house to refill my water bottle.

But I laid soaker hoses and watered the cauliflower, hot peppers, eggplant, a couple rows of tomatoes, and the onions.  Got in a few more summer squash and took out the last of the turnips, whose greens were being decimated by the arrival of the grasshoppers.  Mowed a bit more–the inevitable missed spots from yesterday’s mowing (no baby rabbits died in the making of today’s blog).

Finally got the tomatoes in the north central garden weeded out–a couple didn’t make it, but then I can simply replace the ones that died with some of my legions of volunteers.

Not every tomato gets picked in my garden–and not every tomato flies when it gets past its prime.  There is the inevitable fruit drop, and with it, the inevitable scores of “free” plants the next season.  With around 100 plants that I put in myself, there are probably twice that many that just randomly came up where I had plants last year.

(Yeah–I’m thinking that too–why do I dig that many holes when I can have as many re-seeded tomatoes as I want?)

But of course I don’t know how many volunteers will come up and of which varieties.  Since most of them are open-pollinated heirlooms, I can pretty much guess what might be coming up in a certain area based on what I grew there the previous year, but this is not always the case.

I am pretty ruthless with my tomato volunteers.  I do not water them, I do not try to avoid stepping on them if they are in an established path.  I do not try to keep the hose from knocking them over or breaking them off.

Pretty much the only thing I will do for them is thin them out.  If there are twenty-fifty little plants in one small area, I’ll thin them down to the most widely-spaced and healthy-looking 3-5 plants.

Occasionally I’ll relent on my no-water policy if there is a little leak at the connection between the two hoses, and if I’m using a soaker hose on a row nearby–I’ll try to arrange it so the drip from the bad connection is by the roots of a volunteer tomato (the water’s gotta go somewhere).

And–OK–I’ll admit it–occasionally if they’re in a good spot, and I am feeling tender on that day, I will give a favored, exuberant-looking plant a little cage to support and protect it.  And I actually tend to get a pretty nice extra harvest off what survives all my tough love.


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