Attack of the Tiny Tomatoes
Is too much of a good thing a bad thing?
We put in a salsa garden. This is a big deal because previously we’d only put in flowers and shrubs and this was our first attempt at growing edibles. We planted cilantro, peppers, onions, and of course tomatoes. We stuck those little plastic identification markers near each seedling so we’d know a poblano from a Ponderosa pine. Personally, I was full of hope, and envisioned tender mounds of fresh, homegrown pico de gallo delivered to my lips via tortilla chip and quesadilla. I reveled in the idea of eating completely organic food that we’d made with our own plants (and about $900 worth of soil, compost, mulch, landscaping blocks and gravel). It was going to be magical, if not exactly cost-effective.
It almost was.
I blame it on Deb.
Sure, it started innocently enough. She wanted cherry tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes are by far her favorite vegetable (they’re actually berries, but you knew that). She adores cherry tomatoes with an unnatural passion the origin of which I will only guess at—I’m not ready to plumb those depths just yet. Anyway, it was Damn the Romas, full cherries ahead!
Like the other salsa-intentioned things we’d planted—peppers, onions, cilantro—the cherry tomato plants started out diminutive and darling. There were two of them growing up about eighteen inches apart, their little raggedy-edged leaves waving in the breezes. I forget the name of the variety (what the frick happens to those little plastic markers anyway?) but I anticipated stout little bushes about three feet high.
Maybe you’ve seen The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the iconic Disney cartoon where Mickey Mouse tries to game the system by commanding brooms to carry buckets of water for cleaning, but then he can’t think of the shut-off spell and the brooms keep pouring water until everything’s awash in good intentions gone off the rails. Our cherry tomato plants were like that. They wouldn’t stop growing. Some kind of pump-you-up soil hormones made them hearty and swollen and so full of themselves that they began to subsume the entire salsa garden with tomato-ness. They surpassed three feet high, then four, then six. I had to surround them with stakes and rope them upright so they wouldn’t flop all over everything. They threw prodigious amounts of shade, stunting the peppers in their tracks, swallowing the cilantro whole, and driving the onions into oblivion.
Despite the collateral damage, it was something of a miracle that we had grown something that far exceeded expectations. As the tomatoes began to ripen we could barely keep up, trotting out to the plot morning and evening to pluck what would turn out to be hundreds of fat little red tomatoes. The plants were so full and branchy that picking tomatoes was an endless game of peek-a-boo. You’d pluck every ripe tomato you could see and then, just by shifting over a few inches, a whole new galaxy of bright red balls would appear. We ate tomatoes right off the vine and cut them in half and stuffed our salads full of little red hemispheres and those we couldn’t eat we heaped into various bowls and stored them in the refrigerator so that when you opened the door everything was so bright and glowing red it was like staring into the core of a nuclear reactor.
We did not, however, ever make the homegrown organic pico of our Dos Equis dreams. The other ingredients and pretty much our entire little veggie garden failed to survive the attack of the tiny tomatoes. Nevertheless, Deb was predictably ecstatic with our bumper monocrop, so that was in the plus column. And after a trip to the co-op for onions, cilantro, garlic, limes, chips, and a six-pack of tall necks, I was in the plus column, too.