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Misadventures in Tomato Rearing (or, What Would Nonno Do?)


I’ve been working on my own garden of sorts this summer. I originally had high hopes for planting in the ground, but I ended up with pots along the edge of our tiny urban “lawn” after a difference of opinions with my neighbor on who can plant where. Fine. I’ve moved on.

It started innocently enough, with some patio tomatoes and cucumbers from the hardware store. Nothing major, just low maintenance enough for my unruly life. They were doing well for a while, growing strong, sprouting flowers, keeping calm. Just like store-bought seedlings should, I suppose. Then the bad kids showed up, leaving nothing but poor examples in their wake.

My grandfather gave me a pot of tomato seedlings he’d grown from last year’s seeds. You could imagine my excitement at this prospect—ten direct descendants from his holy garden! I promptly set them up in their own pots, complete with support sticks for when they’d inevitably need them. And then the daydreaming began. I tend to do this: dreams of overflowing bowls of tomatoes, salads with cucumbers, tomatoes, an red onions. Sauce. Stew. Tomatoes and eggs. All from my little jungle out back. What a glorious summer it would be.

But things aren’t turning out quite like I’d planned. For one thing, they will not listen to me. They’re out of control, growing every which way, paying no mind to their neighboring plants—even their own tomato siblings in the pots next to them. They keep getting taller, demanding more water, more space, more support, and they refuse to flower. Finally, *finally,* a couple of them sprouted flowers this week. But I won’t get my hopes up. In the meantime, I’m tying more support sticks to those already there, which are no longer enough. I’m catering to their whims like a fretting first-time mother.

And even worse, they’re teaching their store-bought cousins that this behavior is okay. Our dear, once-well-behaved plum tomato plant is a disorderly mess. It grew so tall, so quickly, that the stem snapped under its own weight. That incident actually sparked a new brand of crazy. The stem that snapped was full of green tomatoes, so rather than giving it up for dead we thought, what would Nonno do? Channeling his unconventional resourcefulness, we rigged a support system–a cast of sorts, by tying thread tightly around the injured stem with the hope that it would survive. Half was already completely broken, but we were hopeful the rest of the stem would hold up. And damn, did it. Our little thread cast was a miracle healer. This plant never knew it was injured. It’s been blooming and sprouting tomatoes more than any of its intact cousins. We’re so proud of him.

As for the rest of these guys, they just won’t give us any tomatoes. What’s going on?? Anyone else having this problem? Or are we just bad parents? My grandfather isn’t having this problem. Maybe it’s our soil. I’ll have to consult Google, I suppose. The fruitless chaos just continues to grow…

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2 Responses to “Misadventures in Tomato Rearing (or, What Would Nonno Do?)”

  1. Ron says:

    I found that pulling the extra shoots that grow off the main stem helps. I grow mine straight up one pole to about 8 feet tall. This lets the plant put energy into flowers and fruit rather than many stems and leaves. I sometimes allow the shoot to grow about 5-6 inches, pinch it off and put it in water. It will grow roots and then you can plant and have a whole new vine.

    Here is a better explanation of pruning suckers.


  2. Maria says:

    Thanks so much for the tip, Ron! This will be so helpful for next year, when I attempt to do it right!


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