Off the Record: Will this be year of the tomato?

Sometimes I envy Randy Kzmarzick, who writes the “Weeds” column every other Wednesday on this page.

Not only is he a better writer than I am, he knows how to grow stuff.

He’d better know how to grow stuff – he’s a farmer, and farmers who don’t know how to grow stuff soon become, I don’t know, ag reporters?

I don’t want to grow a lot of stuff, mind you. I’d like to be able to grow something that at least looks like grass on my Broadway boulevard. I think the only green stuff that will take hold on that salt and grit-strewn strip will be garlic mustard.

But what I’d really like to grow is tomatoes. Big, red tomatoes that ripen on the vine in the sun, tomatoes with a sweet, savory flavor that can’t really be described, only experienced, tomatoes that are juicy and ripe, not stiff and spongy like the tomatoes you get in the grocery store.

I’ve never been much of a gardener. There was one year I tried it, back in Albert Lea. We dug up a big portion of the back yard and planted lettuce, which the rabbits ate, carrots, which the rabbits ate, and green beans. I planted beans because someone told me they were easy to grow.

Well, they grew just fine. I figured I’d let them get good and ripe before I picked them. But nobody told me you should pick them early, and I found out if you let them sit on the vine an extra week or two they turn woody. It was like eating twigs. Beavers would have broken their teeth on them.

I also tried tomatoes, not expecting much success. My father had tried to grow tomatoes when I was a kid, and never had a great deal of success.

My tomatoes sort of withered and died, and then I learned that the black walnut trees in the back yard release a toxin into the soil that kills various competing plants, including tomatoes.

Since then I’ve never been sure about when to plant tomatoes, where to plant them, whether to grow them early inside and transplant them. But this year I tried a little trick I saw on Facebook, something about taking that old wrinkly tomato you didn’t get around to eating and instead throwing it out, slicing it up and putting the slices in a bucket full of soil. The seeds in the tomato sprout, and then when it gets warm you transplant them outside.

It sounded simple, and I’ll be darned if it didn’t actually work. I have an ice cream bucket full of potting soil with seedling tomato plants growing in the sunny front window, and if it ever warms up again, I’ll plant them in a sunny spot I have picked out in the back yard.

I have no doubt something will go wrong. We have a lot of rabbits in the area, but I don’t know if they like tomato plants. There are no walnut trees in the area, but you never know what disaster awaits.

Anyway, sometime in August or September I’ll know if there’s a chance of tomatoes.

If my crop fails, maybe I will be able to get Randy to give some tips for next year.


Kevin Sweeney has been the managing editor of The Journal since May 1985. A native of St. Paul, he worked at newspapers in LeSueur and Albert Lea before moving to New Ulm. Contact him at


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