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Horticultural Horror No. 3: Inversion as a method for limiting the size of tomatoes

Posted: Saturday, Jul 26th, 2014




(This is the third in a series of three columns about horticulture submitted by Bill Russell.)

BY (This is the third in a series of three columns about horticulture submitted by Bill Russell.)

BY BILL RUSSELL

Iím a tomato junkie. Be it in salads, on sandwiches or just sliced and topped with mayonnaise, set me next to a nice ripe†tomato and Iím one happy dude.

Thatís why, when the advertisement for that up-side-down hanging tomato planter played on television, I sat enthralled. The sight of those plump, juicy red beauties hanging like a cluster of grapes, set my mouth watering. I knew I just had to have one of those gadgets. Never mind my dismal record of agricultural failures dating back to my childhood, this looked like a perfect setup. At least, thatís how it was presented in the advertisement. When my wife, found one of the contraptions at a local store, I was ecstatic. I couldnít wait to get home to begin the process that would load my table down with rosy-red delights. Thoughtful to the end, she also purchased a tomato plant of the beef steak variety and I was on my way to horticultural history. I had the Guinness Book of World Records square in my sights.

When we got home, I carefully assembled the bag and hung it on a wire hook dangling in front of my window. The hook originally held a small bird feeder. This would be the perfect place. Plenty of sunshine and Iíd be able to watch my beauties grow. Placing the plant in the bag presented a bit of a problem requiring both myself and my wife to accomplish. The plant must have been around the store for a while and had grown much bigger than the hole where it was supposed to go. With adroit manipulation and some serious pulling and tugging, we managed to snake it through while only losing half the leaves and a couple of branches. Now came the crucial task; filling the bag with soil. This takes a deft hand and a gentle touch. It also helps if you donít mind getting a little dirty.†

Each layer had to be evenly distributed to fill the bag and avoid air pockets. If there was one problem, one bump in the road to success, it was the wire hanger. It was soft, easily bent and with each scoop of soil, the bag got heavier and heavier. Soon the wire could no longer support the weight and the hook began to straighten out under the load. I managed to catch the bag just before it would have crashed to the ground and crushed the fledgling plant beneath. It was obvious a much sturdier anchor was needed. The steel shepherdís pole promised opportunity but it practically bent double when I tried it there. What was required was something sturdy, something like a 2-by-4-inch screwed to the side of the garage. A half hour later I was in business. Now I could begin the tender loving care that would guarantee weeks of dining pleasure.

I watered it daily and fed it according to instructions on the box, and after what seemed to me like an eternity, blooms appeared and then three tiny globs. I was ecstatic. Of course, I was expecting dozens and I thought they should have been the size of baseballs by then. But not to worry, I was confident the rest were waiting in the wings, ready to pop out at regular intervals to grace my table with a continuous supply of goodies. Weeks passed and my daily inspections revealed a disturbing trend. Even my untrained eye could see that growth was a wee-bit slowÖ heck, it was almost nonexistent. The other thing was the leaves looked funny, they were curled up. I thought it might be from heat but they stayed curly even when it was cool which scotched that idea.†

Still I waited. According to my calculations, by now there should be scads of big, ripe beefsteak tomatoes, hanging like Christmas tree ornaments. Instead, I had three little green marbles that could pass as Ďcase hardened grapes.í What really hurts was, not only did I never experience the joy of eating my own produce but, these hardened little steel balls cost me about nine dollars apiece to grow. I can buy a lot of tomatoes at farmerís market for that kind of money and, Iíll bet theyíll taste just as good as if Iíd grown them myself Ö maybe better.

Epilogue: The three marble tomatoes have gone missing. I suspect the squirrels got íem. My humiliation is now complete. Iím 78 and with any luck the next time a planting frenzy comes over me Iíll be gone. That in itself will be some sort of relief.

Bill Russell lives in Huron with his wife, Norelle.



Iím a tomato junkie. Be it in salads, on sandwiches or just sliced and topped with mayonnaise, set me next to a nice ripe†tomato and Iím one happy dude.

Thatís why, when the advertisement for that up-side-down hanging tomato planter played on television, I sat enthralled. The sight of those plump, juicy red beauties hanging like a cluster of grapes, set my mouth watering. I knew I just had to have one of those gadgets. Never mind my dismal record of agricultural failures dating back to my childhood, this looked like a perfect setup. At least, thatís how it was presented in the advertisement. When my wife, found one of the contraptions at a local store, I was ecstatic. I couldnít wait to get home to begin the process that would load my table down with rosy-red delights. Thoughtful to the end, she also purchased a tomato plant of the beef steak variety and I was on my way to horticultural history. I had the Guinness Book of World Records square in my sights.

When we got home, I carefully assembled the bag and hung it on a wire hook dangling in front of my window. The hook originally held a small bird feeder. This would be the perfect place. Plenty of sunshine and Iíd be able to watch my beauties grow. Placing the plant in the bag presented a bit of a problem requiring both myself and my wife to accomplish. The plant must have been around the store for a while and had grown much bigger than the hole where it was supposed to go. With adroit manipulation and some serious pulling and tugging, we managed to snake it through while only losing half the leaves and a couple of branches. Now came the crucial task; filling the bag with soil. This takes a deft hand and a gentle touch. It also helps if you donít mind getting a little dirty.†

Each layer had to be evenly distributed to fill the bag and avoid air pockets. If there was one problem, one bump in the road to success, it was the wire hanger. It was soft, easily bent and with each scoop of soil, the bag got heavier and heavier. Soon the wire could no longer support the weight and the hook began to straighten out under the load. I managed to catch the bag just before it would have crashed to the ground and crushed the fledgling plant beneath. It was obvious a much sturdier anchor was needed. The steel shepherdís pole promised opportunity but it practically bent double when I tried it there. What was required was something sturdy, something like a 2-by-4-inch screwed to the side of the garage. A half hour later I was in business. Now I could begin the tender loving care that would guarantee weeks of dining pleasure.

I watered it daily and fed it according to instructions on the box, and after what seemed to me like an eternity, blooms appeared and then three tiny globs. I was ecstatic. Of course, I was expecting dozens and I thought they should have been the size of baseballs by then. But not to worry, I was confident the rest were waiting in the wings, ready to pop out at regular intervals to grace my table with a continuous supply of goodies. Weeks passed and my daily inspections revealed a disturbing trend. Even my untrained eye could see that growth was a wee-bit slowÖ heck, it was almost nonexistent. The other thing was the leaves looked funny, they were curled up. I thought it might be from heat but they stayed curly even when it was cool which scotched that idea.†

Still I waited. According to my calculations, by now there should be scads of big, ripe beefsteak tomatoes, hanging like Christmas tree ornaments. Instead, I had three little green marbles that could pass as Ďcase hardened grapes.í What really hurts was, not only did I never experience the joy of eating my own produce but, these hardened little steel balls cost me about nine dollars apiece to grow. I can buy a lot of tomatoes at farmerís market for that kind of money and, Iíll bet theyíll taste just as good as if Iíd grown them myself Ö maybe better.

Epilogue: The three marble tomatoes have gone missing. I suspect the squirrels got íem. My humiliation is now complete. Iím 78 and with any luck the next time a planting frenzy comes over me Iíll be gone. That in itself will be some sort of relief.

Bill Russell lives in Huron with his wife, Norelle.



For the complete article see the 07-25-2014 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 07-25-2014 paper.











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