Wild tomatoes grow sturdy

Nearly every June, when we come upon a stocky little tomato plant growing wild among the weeds, we mulch and encourage it. It's our alternate in case adversity befalls the tomatoes we started indoors in clay bulb pots.

Last spring our seven Jubilees, planted in the south corner of the garden, were already blossoming by the time we found three healthy six-inch volunteers. No pest or disease ever bothers a volunteer, and except for the summer, our volunteer bore golden tomatoes. The fruit is firm, fine-flavored, and runs from medium to small.

About the time we transplanted these tomato plants to the sunniest part of the yard in poor, somewhat gritty soil in which two crops of green manure had been grown and turned under, we recalled the observation of an Oregon tomato lover:

"The tomato is a weed and grows best when neglected and without cultivation. I once saw one growing in a rock pile, loaded with perfect tomatoes. Who knows where the seed came from?"

This inspired us. Instead of mulching with wilted weeds or pink-stone overlayers of soaked paper, we mulched each unstaked volunteer with three large (10-inch) rocks, the flattest available. In the morning, the sun hit these tomatoes more than three hours before it reached the Jubilees growing in deeply cultivated, compost-fortified loam.

The Jubilees, mulched and staked but oot tied, grew big and leafy and bore large golden tomatoes about two weeks before the volunteers started to bear. But almost half the Jubilees had soft spots or deep eaten-out holes, while every red tomato from a volunteer was edible.

As the weeks passed, the Jubilees became bushier and bigger and bore fewer and fewer tomatoes. But the red fruit on the volunteer was highly visible since the fruit was thick and the foliage thin.

By early September the plants produced enough tomatoes for a family of three. This continued through October, weeks after the Jubilee plants had been yanked, chopped in pieces, and buried deep.

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