by Norm Budnitz
To grow, or not to grow, that is the question.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to accept volunteer tomatoes,
Or to take arms, and by opposing end them.
To grow; to kill.
To kill: to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand natural hopes
That flesh is heir to.
To grow: 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished.
Would that we could consume
The succulent red flesh of that bulbous accidental nightshade.
To grow? Perchance to dream.
Ay, there's the rub.
With all due respect to Shakespeare, this is indeed a question to contend with. Last year we had so many different varieties of tomatoes—red, pink, yellow, round, oblong, heart-shaped, fleshy, juicy. So many, we couldn’t eat them all. Some were tasted by squirrels; some went on the compost; some simply fell to the garden floor. And now there are hordes of volunteer tomatoes coming up everywhere. Is this your conundrum? What is to be done?
To answer this question, you need to consider many factors. Let’s take a look:
Did you plant hybrid varieties last year? If so, think back to Gregor Mendel and what you learned (and promptly forgot) in high school. When hybrids reproduce, they may or may not produce offspring just like themselves.
Did you plant non-hybrid, heirloom varieties? A particular variety could breed true if it didn’t cross pollinate with another variety. Did you really gamble your whole investment in tomato culture to just one heirloom variety? Unlikely. If you planted multiple varieties, would they randomly cross pollinate? Likely. These hybrids could produce the newest, most succulent, flavorful tomatoes known to modern horticulturists. Or not.
What is your garden space like? If you’ve got lots of room to spare, volunteer tomatoes can usually be transplanted quite easily. Dig them up, maintaining a nice root ball, and move them to the spot where you want them. If space is limited, then you are faced with our false bard’s dilemma. Will the plant in your precious space produce rich, round, red, juicy fruit or wizened, tough-skinned, little orange prune-like objects best used for target practice.
Years ago, when I was on a meager student budget, I used to let the occasional volunteer tomato do its thing—particularly if it happened to come up in about the right part of the garden. Was I ever satisfied with the result? No. Not once. Nary a time. Never. But I only tried a few times, so it was a small sample size. I quickly decided that my space, time, and energy were in limited supply. I’ve never been much of a gambling man. I truly love a good, home-grown tomato. So each spring, I opened my wallet and sprung a few bucks for tomato plants that would give me the best odds of being able to bite into a luscious red fruit that would overwhelm my taste buds and leave me with juice dripping down my arm and running off my elbow.
So. To grow or not to grow. You Hamlet (or Hamlette) must choose for yourself.
Norm Budnitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Volunteer tomato plant among the planted savoy cabbage