The Volunteer!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Every tomato grower worth a salt has them (I love tomatoes and salt, yum!). Even if you don't want them -- if you grow heirloom tomatoes -- you're bound to get them. If they didn't pop up this year -- they most certainly will next year.

Or perhaps you just haven't spotted them in the yard yet. Chances are they are there -- hiding from you in plain sight.

"They" in this case are "volunteer tomato plants." And in this -- our third year of gardening in our vast North Natomas gardening laboratory -- Venus and I have them in spades. Volunteer tomato plants -- like the one to your right near the grapevines -- are popping up everywhere.

Did we have tomatoes planted in this spot last year? Actually -- uh -- no. So how did it get there then? Good question. I'm still trying to figure that one out myself. If you some how deduce the answer -- please let me know as Venus and I have plants popping up all over the yard this summer.

I wonder what would have happened had we actually had decent weather this spring? Even more volunteers? Perhaps...

Most of the volunteers that we find -- like the eight or nine plants that popped up underneath this peach tree -- get yanked out the moment I see them. I don't want tomatoes competing with peaches. In fact -- I don't want tomatoes anywhere near the peaches.

So -- how did they get there then? I DUNNO! Maybe some bird ripped off a cherry tomato -- flew into the tree -- and snacked on it there? The seeds were prevented from blowing out of the yard from the tree and dropped to the base instead?

Our sneaky cats put them there? I wouldn't put it past them. Hey! Look at it from this perspective: If our mangy cats can can deposit hairballs in every room of the house -- then they can certainly place tomato seeds in out-of-the-way places.

Venus and I have been busy this June -- ripping out volunteers where we find them. Volunteers in the potato bed? Yep! Volunteers coming out of the bark around the raised planter beds? Absolutely! Volunteers coming up with grapes? Um -- yeah -- that too.

But not every volunteer tomato gets the "rough and tough" treatment. Like these plants -- for example. They are volunteers that popped up on the edge of our in-ground test bed. Since they're in a bed that we already prepared for gardening AND they've got a steady source of water -- they've received a temporary stay of execution.

Now the big question is: what kind of tomato is this? Good question! We haven't figured that out yet. The nice thing is -- the volunteer plants are loaded with small tomatoes. They're big enough at this point where I can be reasonably assured that they are not cherry tomatoes -- but that's about all I can tell you at this point.

Venus thought she noticed some ribbing across the top -- which might indicate a Costoluto Genovese -- but it's just too early to tell yet. We had a mass of different kinds of heirloom plants located in this area last year -- so this could be one of those varieties. It's also entirely possible that this could be some sort of cross.

Whatever it is -- it certainly appears to be doing quite well where it's planted -- and with that many green tomatoes forming on it -- well -- it would be a crying shame to just up and tear it out.

Thus -- the reprieve.

This isn't the only volunteer thriving in the Bird Garden this year. Black Cherry tomato plant volunteers are also springing up near a raised bed where I put a Black Cherry plant two years ago. I had a massive number of volunteers a year later (last year) and the process appears to be starting all over again this year.

I'm of the opinion that you can never have enough Black Cherry tomatoes. It just might be one of those "unwritten" rules. Nobody needs to tell you. You just sort of -- well -- know.

As for whether our volunteers will be *good* or *bad* -- the jury is still out on that. Sometimes they turn out to be cherry tomatoes that are really nothing to write home about. But -- sometimes -- the volunteer happens to be the return of a tomato you forgot to seed the previous season -- but really wish you had.

That's how we rediscovered our black "Evil Seed" heirloom variety (which we grew out in the form of starter plants and handed out to friends and associates this year). Now -- everyone gets to experience the nastiest tomato on the face of this Earth.

What will Mother Nature gift us with this year? Well now -- that's half the fun. Patience Bill Bird. Patience. Time will tell...