Friday, July 10, 2009

End of a tomato era

Yesterday I took down the tomato.

Not a tomato one would expect -- a sick or infested plant in the garden, like what happened with my beans thanks to slugs. Rather, this was a tomato I planted in the living room back in April 2008.

It began as a conventional nursery seedling, and aside from the trip home it never saw the outdoors. My aim was to learn whether my hugely windowed, south-facing living room could serve as a greenhouse; and whether tomatoes really are perennials, as I'd heard was true in their native tropical lands. (Not so here in Zone 3, with its 90-day growing season!)

After 27 months, I can claim Yes, tomatoes are perennials and they will grow year-round in my living room. There's a catch, though. From the start, the plant -- like the pair of red bell peppers that accompanied it in this experiment -- was weak and brittle, and the fruit small and sparse. Yet all three specimens grew enormous, and the peppers produced gigantic leaves.

All outgrew the space allotted to them months ago, but I persevered, until it became apparent that the plants are just plain tuckered out. Though still producing, their fruits started to grow deformed and often didn't survive to maturity. The older leaves looked dreadful. Now that new tomatoes and peppers are developing in the garden, I decided that the oldsters should move along to the compost pile.

Well, not quite. At the last moment, I decided to just cut them back to stubs. Way down low, the new-growth leaves looked healthy. So now we'll go around another year and see just how perennial these plants can be!

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at

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