Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Gardening Friend

This afternoon I stopped by the house of the Tomato Man in Kennesaw with a bag of potting soil. He had given me some Amish tomato plants last year, and I wanted to make sure I was on his list for this year, too. He seemed surprised that I brought potting soil, but I think he appreciated it.

He and his wife invited me in for a visit, and while he was looking for an article about growing tomatoes that he wanted to show me, his wife told me a story from her childhood. She was born in Kansas, but her father was in the military and they were moved to California when she was small. The aunt that she lived with when he got assigned out of the country (after Pearl Harbor) grew and canned peaches and apricots.

When Mrs. Tomato Man was a girl, she always pulled apricots apart into halves before eating them, and one day a friend asked why she did that. She said that it was because that's what her aunt did. One day when she and her friend were eating apricots, her friend bit into a whole one that turned out to be full of ants.

When the Tomato Man got back with his article, he handed it to me but then started to tell me his favorite part: Tomatoes were at one time (a very long time ago) thought to be poisonous; they are, after all, in the same family as the deadly nightshade, which can actually kill people if they eat it. But back in about 1830, a guy named Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson, who according to the article is kind of the Cool Hand Luke of tomatoes, took a dare to eat a whole basket of tomatoes. Everybody figured he'd be dead at the first one, but he lived.

The Tomato Man made sure that I knew all the basics about tomatoes before I left, which was very sweet. I am incredibly fortunate to have struck up that conversation with him at the local Home Depot last year when we were both perusing the seed racks. If I hadn't, I would have missed making two friends.

And, I am extra-glad I stopped by early because it turns out that this year his garden is going to be much smaller. He has been retired for a long time. He was in the aerospace industry, designing parts for fighter jets. One jet in particular was for the Korean War, which is a clue to his age. Last year, his usual garden was just too much work.

This really firms up my commitment to save seeds from the garden this year. If I don't, this particular strain that has been grown locally for a couple of decades might be lost.

I asked where he got the seeds for his Amish tomatoes originally, and he said that he ordered them from a catalog. He didn't remember which one, but he did remember that the description said they were the only tomato grown by the Amish families in one particular area. The description also said that the Amish saved seeds for it every year, which is how he got the idea that he could save the seeds, too.

The plants produce tomatoes that are large, meaty, tasty, and multicolored. One plant can produce some tomatoes that are all pink, some that are all yellow, and some that are striped or swirled (both pink and yellow). Like many heirloom tomatoes, they aren't prolific producers (think Brandywine), but they are well worth my effort.


  1. Wow, what a story about the peaches and ants! I am growing an unknown Polish Heirloom this year that an older Master Gardener gave me seeds for. She is living in Assisted Living now and cannot garden anymore, the seeds are 3 years old, and they have been saved in her family since the 1920's. I sowed 3, and 1 germinated, and it is being babied like crazy, LOL! It bugs me a bit that I can't identify it, but I hope I am able to bring her a bowl full of her family's Heirloom tomatoes this summer and save some of those seeds!!

  2. Melodie, I didn't used to start up conversations with strangers, but as I've gotten older, that has changed, and it has really enriched my life. I get to hear lots of stories!

    Erin, I remember reading a little about your Polish tomatoes on your blog, but I didn't remember the part about her not being able to grow them anymore. I m so glad that you are!

    If you never sort out exactly what they are, you can name them after her family. If the seeds have been handed down through her family all this time, they won't be exactly like the originals anymore, anyway. But what a huge responsibility. I hope it goes well!


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