Volunteer Tomato

We never did get around to putting in a garden this year.  When we moved into our house, the backyard was a disaster, random baby trees dotted everywhere and no actual grass, just weeds and sad lumps of cast-off…stuff.  It needed an overhaul, and while my eyes are generally on the interior of the house, my husband recognized that we have four children, and that the interior would be markedly nicer, cleaner and quieter if the yard was marginally play-able.  And so we set about bulldozing and terracing and moving earth from one place to another (well, not us, but some people we asked to come over and do it with their much bigger and cooler equipment).  And then we put in some grass plugs and crosses our fingers, which are still crossed as we wait for spring to come and those plugs to grow together into a lawn.  It’s play-able, in a way.  For now.

So with all this earth-shifting and planning and pulling-it-out-of-our-ear-ing as we re-invent this house after it lay dormant and uninhabited for over a year, we didn’t know quite where to put a vegetable garden.  And so we didn’t.  We walked past all the pallets of teensy veggie seedlings in the spring, and past the weedy and over-grown veggie seedlings in late spring, and looked on in envy at the gardens of our friends and neighbors and Pinterest, and didn’t plant one of our own this year.  We are waiting to find the Perfect Spot, so we can raise the beds and amend the soil and do it one time and then tend that little plot of land until our children have grown.


I didn’t expect to get a tomato plant out of all that…NOT doing.  I was surprised to come out to the yard the other day and discover a sweet, healthy, tall and flowering little fella, a volunteer with his hand up, uninvited but willing to make the effort and join the cause.  Tomatoes are notorious for volunteering, for appearing in compost heaps and along roadsides.  They’re opportunistic, and if they fell their seeds in a place remotely agreeable, they’ll  pop up in no time, ready to party.

The funny thing about tomatoes is that if you want to grow them from seed, the seeds have to first be fermented.  Which is to say, when a tomato plants itself, it rots around its seeds, which sloughs off the coating that prevents the seed from germinating, and prepares it for the soil.  In seed farms, they do that by mushing all the pulp and guts together until it bubbles and the sugars convert, and then they mush it through screens to filter out the seeds (true story).  In our yard, apparently it all happens when you toss out some tomatoes that have gotten icky and miss the garbage can.  Yes, the garbage can:

This is directly beyond the trash cans–the very, very classy trash cans that came with the house, I should add.  We don’t like them even a little bit, but they’re what we have until we suck it up to plop down $100 for a nice fancy one with wheels, here in our part of town where that kind of thing doesn’t get provided by your trash service company.  Clearly, I tossed one of those icky tomatoes too high in the air and it landed–kerplop!–on the other side of the trash.  Where it decided it wanted to be a tomato plant.

No way are we going to get fruit from these.  We may have a 160+ day growing season here in the South, but even this part of the world can’t make tomatoes in October when the night-time temps are dipping into the 40s.  But something magical happens inside you when you find a plant, a food-bearing plant, that has sprouted and taken root in the most unlikely places.  Something that makes you want to make beautiful things out of nothing.  Something that makes me want to produce value and beauty and warmth with my own two hands.

Wishing you some of your own organic inspiration this weekend.

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