Super-star of My Side Yard
This past spring, while watering an Ash tree (Fraxinus) I planted in a small side yard several years back, I almost stepped on a Solanum lycopersicum. This tomato had sprouted next to an outdoor rocking chair that sat on a narrow gravel-covered strip of soil that was wedged between a small patch of concrete and the fence.
Over the weeks, as I watched the plant stretch upward and vine outward, this unexpected volunteer won my heart. I couldn’t bear to pull it up. So I did what bleeding heart gardeners do when stuck between rocks and hard places. I pounded in a stake to secure the tomato plant’s voluminous growth and draped its vines across the lap of the chair. When the concrete was no longer passable, I lifted the fruit-filled stems atop two plastic storage bins.
During my research into why this super star of my side yard is outperforming every tomato I ever planted in my entire life, I realize its success is mostly due to the soil, which was fallow for years, despite being gravel-covered clay. But I also learned that volunteer plants can increase nematode populations. Guess what? I can’t even reach the roots to inspect them for root knot nematodes (See UC ANR Publication 3470, Tomato nematodes).
Then I wondered if my volunteer is a disease resistant variety? I don’t know. All I know is what I see. Foliage over 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide and growing by the day. No evidence of chlorosis virus, spotted wilt or yellow leaf curl. No verticillium wilt or Mosaic virus — YET.
So . . . as I reap this year’s harvest, I envision next year’s volunteer — large, lush, lovely, drooping with pick-ready vine-ripe tomatoes. But I know super stars don’t last and reality gardening seldom measures up to the plot of dreams.
Volunteer tomato with chair. (photos by Launa Herrmann)
Volunteer tomato overgrowing chair.
Volunteer tomato harvest.