Orphan Tomatoes

A.V. Walters

Well, we’re behind schedule but things are finally falling into place. You know that the garden is “in,” when the stragglers begin to arrive. I have a reputation for an open door policy to wayward vegetables. I can’t help it; there is nothing so sad as a homeless vegetable-start, without a garden. They have roots, after all, and need someplace to call home and put them down.

And every spring, tomatoes are the best example. This year we put a limit on tomato plants. (Not that we don’t every year, to no avail.) We dug in twenty buckets, in the long garden, and six in our backyard (for the exiled Romas.) That was it! Right.

The buckets we dug in were supposed to accommodate the ten or twelve tomatoes I had in my sights, six Romas, and then room for the inevitable tomato contributions of my farm neighbors. On our return from vacation, we planted the Romas and eight heirloom tomato starts and put the call out. One neighbor had three, another two. I planted them in short order. I’d thought there would be more, but I was certainly game to pick up a few more for vacant buckets. I even checked with Elmer, because his cousin has a habit of late tomato start donations. No, No, he says, she would only have a couple, and those he wanted to give to his girlfriend for her garden. So the coast was clear and I could pick up enough heirlooms for the remaining buckets. That was ten days ago—I thought the tomato question was finally closed.

But, there are always tomato stragglers. The main garden sprouted it’s own volunteer, so we honored it with a bucket. This week the neighbor who’d had three late arrivals, popped up with four more! I eyed the patch. We’re starting to get heirloom duplicates. Two black cherry tomatoes, two brandywines, two black crims. The new prospects looked healthy and not too leggy. Well, okay, we can squeeze them in without crowding—but no more—I looked right into her eyes. She avoided my gaze. Digging in new buckets this late is a bitch. She held them out and I took them. Our famous hardpan is a challenge if you don’t get the buckets in early. I huffed and puffed and then dropped them into place in their new buckets. It’s been warm this week.

Yesterday, three more showed up in half gallon pots. Nobody claimed them; they just appeared out of nowhere, in amongst the established tomatoes. They seemed harmless enough and, clearly, well tended. Sigh. So, in they went. This weekend we’ll be doing the cages. I can only hope that that sends the message that we are done.

Today another neighbor—this time with two tomatillos! “They’re not tomatoes, really!” (I jammed both the little buggers in one bucket.) We’re up to thirty-three. And, just for good measure, she brought along another lemon cucumber. This is how the garden grows. I’m just glad they’re not kittens.