When my brother Noel gave me two Sungold tomato plants he’d grown from seed a few years ago, I didn’t realize it was one of those gifts that just keeps on giving.
Sungolds are orange cherry tomatoes. Sweet enough to be mistaken for junk food, these lycopene-packed, low-cal gems provide a pop of flavor delicious enough to eat by the handful. This is one of their many gifts.
Sungolds are not only delicious, they are much easier to grow than other kinds of tomatoes. Those other tomatoes — slicers and saucers, Beefsteaks and San Marzanos — are easy prey for soil-borne fungal diseases like septoria leaf spot, late blight and early blight. This is such a problem that experts advise never planting tomatoes in the same spot two years in a row. But that’s not all. Other tomatoes develop blossom-end rot if they’re not watered regularly and all kinds of scarring if other conditions don’t suit them. Not Sungolds. Sungold tomatoes produce bountifully without all the fuss and bother of their larger-fruited relatives. Another gift.
Nonetheless, last year because it rained prolifically at all the wrong times, my Sungold tomato plants developed septoria leaf spot — something that almost never happens. Soon, the leaves had black spots. The foliage yellowed and fell from the plant until fewer than half the leaves remained. Undeterred, the plants produced abundantly. By October, I was awestruck by these plants’ boundless determination … and exhausted from trying to keep up with the harvest. In fact, my brother’s gift of plants was starting to feel like too much of a good thing.
This year, I accepted my brother’s annual gift of tomato plants somewhat reluctantly. In fact, when a rabbit chomped the stems to the ground, I was relieved. I had dutifully planted the tomatoes like a good big sister. Mother Nature had intervened. I was off the hook. I planned to buy tomatoes by the pint from the farmer’s market and skip the stress of having to keep pace with these overachievers. The Sungolds, however, had other plans.
I ignored my former tomato garden until, in late June, I discovered plants springing up all over. Yes, tomatoes were growing from the seeds left by all those fruits I failed to harvest last year — an army of overachieving volunteers. Determined not to get roped into growing tomatoes this year, I resolved to continue my practice of benign neglect. I didn’t stake the plants or water them or even weed. Nonetheless, they persisted. In fact, to this day they are producing bountifully: red, yellow and orange cherry tomatoes, a rainbow of fruits resulting from cross pollination. Once again, I find myself barreling into autumn still harvesting sweet, luscious tomatoes by the bowlful.
Sigh. Plants that are so giving they outperform the gardener. What can I say? It’s one more example of blitz in the garden.
Patrice Peltier lives in Spring Green and writes regularly for Wisconsin Gardening, Chicagoland Gardening and The Landscape Contractor magazines. Her work has appeared in Better Homes and Gardens and Midwest Living magazines.