My volunteer tomato adventure

After the Tomato Heartbreak of 2016 (*more on that in a moment), I vowed there’d be no more than one tomato plant in my garden. Certainly no tomatoes planted in my big garden trough. Despite last year being one of the best years in memory for tomatoes and despite me darting out, waving arms and shouting, “Squirrels!” as “rigid with indignation” as a modern version of David Copperfield’s Aunt Betsey Trotwood – the trough would become unofficially known as the “Squirrel Trampoline and Salad Bar” (*that was the moment). I lost almost every tomato.

See my ‘Sweet 100s’ growing in the large tomato cage on the left?

This year, I bought a 4-pack of ‘Sweet 100s’ from Green Mountain, a local corner nursery, giving some away. Cherry tomatoes do reasonably well in part-sun. And I planted in a large pot, which you’ll note is set well away from the trampoline springboard, aka “fence.”

Then two volunteer tomato seedlings appeared. In the trough. Awwwww, I am such a sucker for baby plants. What the heck. Let’s see what happens.

What happened was, they grew. One of them, especially well.

What’s a “volunteer”? It’s a seedling that spontaneously grows from seed accidentally left in the ground from a previous year. Tomatoes volunteer often. Sometimes, one sprouts from a windfall fruit you’ve missed. In my case, they grew from seed kindly strewn about by demonic, tomato-napping squirrels.

The smaller of the two seedlings never really took off. It produced purplish, potato-style leaves and purple-shouldered fruit, making me guess they’re probable off-spring of the ‘Indigo Rose’ tomatoes I lost in scores. Before I left on vacation in August, it had started to set a few fruits, but these were gone by the time we returned – eaten, I hope, by my sister (unless the demons returned).

Small, egg-shaped fruits make me wonder if these volunteers are ‘German Lunchbox’ tomatoes

The other plant has been surprisingly productive – as you might guess from the opening picture. In fact, it has outperformed what I’m thinking was its parent, the ‘German Lunchbox’ seedling I mentioned last July. Have a look at the shots below from last year. Do they look similar to you?

This tomato is an heirloom type, which I’ve learned can come true from seed. Whatever they are, they have been generous with their fruit. In fact, I’ve had to prune out the growing tips to prevent them setting more fruit, and encourage them to focus on ripening the couple dozen fruits still on the vine. It is nearly October, after all!

Miracle of miracles, the squirrels even seem to have left them alone. Shhhhhhhhhh!

How about you? Have you ever tried growing tomatoes from volunteers? What results have you had?

If you’re unsure what to look for next spring, here’s how volunteer tomato seedlings might look.

1 comment

  1. Not volunteers, but heirloom seed of many varieties in one package. Just picked, keeping separate to ID, then, oops, they got mixed up! Need bigger hands! Still producing red tomatoes near Burk’s Falls! Very warm and sunny. Not much frost damage yet for an area that gets snow usually in September. Looking more like Zone 6.

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