Talkin’ home grown tangy tomatoes

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

There’s nothing better than the taste of a fresh-picked tomato.

I’m not talking about those thick-skinned, rubbery things you buy in the produce section of the supermarket. It’s hard to find a tomato at the store these days that even faintly tastes like it’s supposed to taste.

I only need a salt shaker to eat a good tomato out of a back yard garden. These days I can scarcely bear to even put a slice of store-bought tomato on my hamburger.

I haven’t grown any tomatoes of my own for the last three years and I decided I had to do it this year, even if I just put some in a container on the patio. My wife got out ahead of me though and ordered some of these tomato trees you see advertised in magazines.

OK, I’m up for trying something different. Unfortunately it took a long time for the plants to arrive — they finally got here this week. A spindlier bunch of tomato sets I’ve never seen.

We set them out in containers and now we’re waiting for them to spring to their full eight-foot height. By the time they’re that size, they’ll be producing bushels of tomatoes each week if they perform as promised.

I’m worried that we’re starting pretty late and the plants look suspiciously like regular tomato plants, so who knows what we’ll end up with.
I’ve found over the years of growing tomatoes that’s kinda the way it goes anyway. Some years are good, some are not so good and others are awful.

I’ve had years when I couldn’t keep enough water on them to keep them alive. I’ve had years that I had healthy bushy plants that wouldn’t set a bloom no matter how I fed them or pruned. Other years I’ve barely had tomatoes until the last couple of weeks of the growing season, then been inundated with them.

The last year that I grew tomatoes was a good year. My vines were healthy and constantly flowering and the taller one grew to nearly 6 feet. I reminded my wife before she ordered the tomato tree of that crop saying they would be hard to beat. She reminded me of other years when I couldn’t get tomatoes even using my granddad’s method of pollinating the vines by gently beating them with a rolled up newspaper.

People laugh when I tell them I beat my tomato vines with a newspaper, but granddad always had lots of tomatoes.

When she learned we had ordered tomato trees, my mother was tickled. She remembers one year when she and Dad and several of their friends did the same thing, just to see if they would work.

That tomato tree of hers lived in the living room or on the porch for better than a year and never produced a single tomato. But it was huge. The friends’ trees likewise never produced fruit.

Finally, Mom tied some garden-grown tomatoes onto the tree with thread and snapped a photo. They showed the photo around the coffee shop for a few days before finally confessing to the other growers that it was a fake.

If our little plants make it the first week, I have no doubt we can make them into big bushes. If the things finally get big enough to defend themselves and they’re not producing tomatoes, they better look out. I’ll beat the snot out of ‘em every day with a rolled up PNT until I get tomatoes.

I’m tired of lousy store tomatoes!

Karl Terry is managing editor of the Portales News-Tribune. Contact him at 356-4483 or by e-mail: