July 29, 2005
Trouble With Tomatoes
posted by Nadia

Our three tomato plants, which seemed so reluctant to grow two months ago, have since exploded into enormous, many-armed, climbing monsters. The wooden stakes we had been using to prop them up are now clearly inadequate - they're sagging and drooping under the weight of all these green limbs. The plants are threatening to burst out of the plastic planter that seemed much too large at the time we first planted them, and have entirely overtaken one side of our roof. Tons of green tomatoes have erupted all over this monstrosity, and a few have actually ripened enough for us to eat.


We've got a standard cherry tomato plant that we bought at the Home Depot garden center, as well as two heirloom varieties from the Union Square Greenmarket. One of the heirlooms produces small oval tomatoes, a bit smaller than golf balls, and the other produces enormous creased and bulging franken-matoes. The oval heirlooms are delicious, with a robust meaty flavor, and slightly tough skin. The large heirlooms are also wonderful, although we've only been able to harvest one edible one so far. The reason for this is that both heirloom varieties suffer from cracking, and the full-sized tomatoes in particular seem to split open long before they are ripe. The small oval tomatoes seem to be more or less self-mending, such that we can leave them on the vine until they ripen, at which point many of them have healed brown scars spiraling around them. But the larger heirlooms seem to be splitting wide open while they're still half-green, and rotting from the open parts. That's how we lost our first big tomato, which we lay to rest on the compost heap. I picked the second big tomato yesterday - it looked about half-ripe and the bottom had cracked open, but it had not yet begun to go bad. When I cut it open, it was not fully red inside, but the flavor was surprisingly sweet and full. I ended up chopping it up and adding the tomato flesh to the stuffed squash we had for dinner last night. If anybody has any ideas on how to solve the splitting problem, I'm all ears.

The second issue with our tomato plants arose in the form of a well-camouflaged hornworm that had apparently been snacking on our cherry tomato plant. I'm surprised we even noticed it, as its color and shape blended in so well.


At first I thought it was interesting-looking and somewhat cute, but as soon as Carl took a paper towel and tried to pull the worm from the stalk of the plant, I got a little nauseous. He's a squishy fat fellow, about three inches long, and was not at all interested in giving up his perch. When Carl finally wrestled him off, the worm started wriggling around like crazy, which prompted the now thoroughly grossed-out Carl to toss the worm over onto our neighbor's roof. Perhaps not the smartest move, but it was late at night and we were a bit creeped out. The next morning, lo and behold, he had climbed back and was in his usual spot. This time, we were wiser. Carl took a wooden stake and stabbed him through the middle. He started oozing electric-green goo, and began making unhappy clicking noises. We held him underwater, and finally he stopped clicking and went limp. Then we flushed him down the toilet. The whole experience was quite revolting.