The Tomato Whisperer

I’m in Idaho this week, visiting my brother-in-law, sisters-in-law, and my nephews.  As a BONUS!!! I got to see my sister in law’s brother, Adam, who also happens to be a tomato whisperer.

After a long LONG drive up from Salt Lake City, we got lost in Victor, Idaho, Population: 861.  They have more than one street, which was totally confusing to us.  Imagine my surprise, after driving for hours in the snow, in April, walking into my family’s house, and seeing this:

It’s a gigantic tomato plant.  It is easily 7 feet tall.  Remember: we’re in Idaho, in the shadow of the Grand Tetons, where there’s summer for approximately three months.  This is the biggest tomato plant in a pot I’ve ever seen.  It is large and healthy, due in large part to the ministrations of Adam, my SIL’s brother.

Here he is, standing with his “Pollination Device,” rockin’ a righteous snowboard goggle sunburn.  “Gardening is COOL!” according to Adam.  I have to agree.  Especially when you have a producing vine, inside, in the middle of winter.  My brother in law likes to keep the heat set on 50 degrees, which isn’t quite warm enough to keep the giant plant happy.  Adam sneaks into their house and turns up the thermostat.  That’s when the family patriarch shines through his offspring.  “TURN DOWN THE THERMOSTAT.  ARE YOU TRYING TO EMPTY MY BANK ACCOUNT? HUH?”  Love it.

I used to leave my dorm room lights on for my plants.  I completely understand.

Pollination with a Pumpkin Stem

Adam, his sister Amber, and her husband Ezra (my husband’s brother) are all highly outdoorsy.  They have a guiding business, “Brushbuck Photo Tours,” taking people into the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone during the summer, and to see elk and other wildlife in the winter.  They ski and snowshoe, snowboard and hike.  They are hunting guides and they fish.

For tomatoes to fruit, they have to be pollinated.  There are no natural pollinators inside the house in winter in Idaho.  For awhile, Adam used his sister’s Jack Russel terrier, Roxy, as a pollinator.  She has hairy eyebrows.  Roxy is NOT a natural born pollinator, though, so he had to come up with something else.

Adam wanted something natural, not plastic. Amber thought of a pumpkin stem.  As luck would have it, Adam had bagged an elk a few weeks before, and created a pollinator with some of the elk hair and the pumpkin stem.

This ingenious little device works, as you can see here:

“We had tomatoes through January.  Then the light got a little low.  But, we’re starting to see some more, with spring around the corner.”

The vine is a large, indeterminate tomato, and has been pruned many times.  Adam has started an offspring from one of the prunings in a pot next to it.  As far as I know, he has no other plants than these two giant indoor tomatoes.

That’s the thing I love about gardening:  you find gardeners, with pet plants, in the most unlikely of places.  Before he left for the night, I caught Adam standing next to his big plant.  Looking at it, counting the tomatoes.

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