My Sprawling Cherry Tomato Plants

Take one. Please!

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It’s winter and there is a sprawling cherry tomato plant in front of my picture window.

There is a history to the sprawling cherry tomato plant in front of my picture window. (There is, of course, a history to everything.)

There are 12 ripe cherry tomatoes on the sprawling cherry tomato plant in front of my picture window. (Gulp—only 11 now!) There are an equal number of little green ones. There are six blossoms and probably an equal number of pre-blossoms. (Is there a word for pre-blossoms? Oh, yes: buds.)

“Hi! Wouldn’t you like a cherry tomato plant to put in your window? Here…”

The story began two springs ago when my daughter, Anne, gave me a cherry tomato plant—variety unknown. It turned out to be an ambitious climber. By summer’s end, it had filled its five-foot-high tomato cage and had branches reaching out like an octopus—all the while producing multiple and delicious fruit.

Such a plant deserves to be propagated if possible, so before the end of the season I saved some fruit for seed, not expecting much because hybrid plants often don’t sprout, and I assumed it was a hybrid.

Sometime late the following spring, I rediscovered the seeds (I had forgotten them) and put them in a pot alongside an amaryllis. (I always summer my amaryllis outdoors, don’t you?) Several seeds actually sprouted, so I hunted up a pot and some soil and transplanted the babies. Only one of the seedlings made it through the shock. Summer progressed, and by the end of the season the plant had two big stems and three clusters of green tomatoes. Before frost I moved it and my other vulnerable plants into the garage.

Shortly after that, I moved, also. First (very quickly) to the ground, then to the hospital, and within a week to a rehab facility—with my new hip. While I was convalescing, someone moved all the garage plants indoors and kept them watered. The “someone” could have been one or more of four or five people. Hurray for friends and family! (“Don’t forget to water Doris’s plants. But not too wet! And feed, water, and pet the cat—he really misses Doris.”)

The tomato plant thrived! By the time I got home, it had two stalks that were bending and tangling, so I propped them up on neighboring plants: a coffee tree on the right and a shorter, prettier tree—whose name I do not know—on the left. (I had to bend the longest branch up and over to its support so it wouldn’t block the spot where the cat insists on sitting in the sun.)

I worried about that single blossom—how could it get pollinated with neither another blossom nor an insect pollinator? So right in front of my picture window in November, I nominated my finger to be an insect and, making a gentle buzzing sound, brushed it over that lonely blossom. A few days later, there was a tiny green tomato where the blossom had set. (A few days later, I learned that tomato blossoms can pollinate themselves. So, yes, you can laugh at my tickling a tomato blossom.)

My tomato plant, now named Octopus, continued to thrive. It spread. It blossomed. It fruited, climbed, and produced cherry tomatoes as tasty as its parent’s were.

Karen (she’s one of the “someones”) can’t understand why the tomato thrives in front of my picture window. Neither do I. There’s nothing special about my picture window. Indeed, the big house across the way blocks much of the sunlight all winter.

“If that tomato plant was in my window, it’d never grow!” she complains. Karen has so many plants in her windows that there may not be room for the Child of Octopus I plan to give her (I’m convinced this family of cherry tomatoes would grow anywhere).

Of course, I saved some seeds from the winter’s tomatoes. I also rooted some nipped tips. By planting season, I had lots of new cherry tomato plants to put outside. (I was also beginning to believe my new hip would let me become a real gardener again.)

All the arms of the parent plant had turned and twisted into a complicated wreath. I buried its entire pot in a planter box and strung all its tentacles around a trellis. That done, I let some of the long branches loop down into the earth where they could set root. (Did you know that tomato tips and suckers can be rooted just by sticking them into the soil? That I did know.)

Time flew, or, as they say in movie business, fast forward. It was time to move Octopus back inside. Where did the summer go?

Some of the babies were starting to look like octopi, too. I can no longer remember which babies came from seed and which from cuttings. I don’t know what to do with all the plants I’ve moved into the garage. Mother Octopus will, of course, be returned to her accustomed spot in front of “her” window (as soon as I wash the window).

Karen has accepted a baby to put in her busy window (though she still doubts its ability to thrive). Anne, the daughter who started this epic (aka Grandmother of Octopus), has one seedling—grown two feet tall—and one rooted cutting so she can compare them.

Meanwhile, as winter commences, I find myself greeting every visitor with, “Hi! Wouldn’t you like a cherry tomato plant to put in your window? Look how strong and healthy mine is, and it’s over a year old! It produced tomatoes all winter and all summer, and it produced dozens of new tomato plants, too. Here…”

Not everyone runs away. Some even accept one. But I still have other tomato plants left. They’re on tables. They’re on dressers. My friend Linda, who accepted a plant early last summer, asked if I could babysit hers while she’s gone a few weeks. Where am I going to put it?

And so…

It’s winter and there is a sprawling cherry tomato plant in front of my picture window.

Make that several sprawling cherry tomato plants in front of my picture window!

This article was published originally in 2016, in GreenPrints Issue #108.


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