In mid-May, the danger of frost will (mostly) pass here in the Truckee Meadows. It will be time to plant warm season crops, like tomato plants. And so, with this thought in mind, I want to tell you about my first tomato plant and the lessons it taught me.
My coworker Leslie gifted it to me. I think she had too many tomato plants. That tends to happen to gardeners. Our ability to purchase and germinate seeds far exceeds our available garden space to which we can transplant them. Or maybe, she suspected my diet lacked fresh fruits and vegetables, and she wanted to change that. Either way, I took the tomato plant home, and, lacking a garden, I put the tomato plant in what I thought was the best place I had for it– the living room.
There it stood, proudly in the best lit window of the house. The plant perched on a stand I centered there just for it. My tomato plant was a glorious houseplant, well-tended, healthy and green. It was not, however, well-pollinated. It turns out, I knew where babies come from, but I missed the birds and the bees talk when it came to fruits and vegetables.
Later, I learned that tomato flowers are perfect flowers because they have both male and female parts. I also learned that for a tomato fruit to grow, male pollen must pollinate female eggs. In theory, my tomato plant could have self-pollinated and grown tomatoes for me since it had all of the parts to do so. But, those parts didn’t have any transportation. There was no movement for the flowers in my pristine living room, such as from wind or pollinators, to transport male pollen the short distance to female eggs.
And so, my first tomato plant was barren. This experience taught me the importance of research and going back to the basics to gain greater understanding. If you too need a brush-up on plant pollination, watch for my article in the Reno Gazette-Journal this Saturday. Read it, and get the plant sex talk you need before tending a vegetable garden of any size this growing season. It won’t be awkward, I promise.