Garden of Eatin' / Vegetables

The Accidental Tomato

Rogue tomato plants in the garden

We read a lot about how to grow our own food. We learn how to start our seeds at just the right temperature, give the perfect amount of sunshine and water (not too much, not too little), transplant at the right time, fertilize and weed and mulch and fend off the bad bugs with an arsenal of tools and sprays. If we follow this program, we’ll be rewarded with food in a few months’ time.

But sometimes, such a program goes out the door when nature simply takes over. Suddenly we’re reminded that gardening is an organic process that relies on no rhyme or reason. Gardening is as much a hands-off process as it is hands-on.

So when I discovered the “accidental tomato” growing in a largely neglected part of my yard a couple months ago, I almost didn’t believe it was actually a tomato plant. And not just one, but three plants.

Most of my food garden is grown on roughly 3,000 square feet on a sloping hillside. Another 2,500 square feet at the bottom of the hill is a nearly empty plot, housing only a lemon tree, a slowly growing pineapple patch, an unused greenhouse, and lots and lots of weeds. (Eventually, I’ll get to those projects… sigh.)

The day I discovered the rogue tomato plants, I was bringing a watering can down to the pineapples. All that bushy growth on the terrace below the pineapples was looking strangely familiar. I originally dismissed the plants as overgrown weeds, but now that they were larger, their leaves were becoming more distinct and their scent was undeniably a tomato.

Rogue tomato plants growing in the garden

Somehow, in the middle of a spurge-infested yard where no food had ever been grown before, next to random stacks of leftover construction materials, three tomato plants were thriving in the ground, with the only water source coming from our infrequent spring rains.

I didn’t even know tomato plants could grow on a 45° slope! In plain old dirt, no less. Not soil. But ugly, cakey, clayey, pebbly dirt.

Rogue tomato plants growing on a slope

The plants were about 2 feet tall when I first found them, with strong and healthy stems. I even spotted a few tomatoes growing!

Tiny tomatoes growing

The mystery is trying to determine which tomatoes these are, and how the seeds traveled so far in the first place. My neighbor thought a bird must have eaten a tomato from last summer’s garden and pooped out some seeds overhead… I suppose anything is possible?!

Rogue tomato plants growing in the garden

As of last week, the tomato plants were still growing robustly, with more flowers blooming and huge branches starting to sprawl over into the pineapple patch.

I’ve attempted to prune the unwieldy beasts, and will start to water and fertilize them regularly. Hopefully, I’ll end up with a handful of accidental tomatoes long before my other tomato plants start fruiting!

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring—all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »