Office Tomato Update (April 19, 2011)

It has been about a month and a half since I last wrote about the Office Tomato and it’s about time for a good news/bad news update.

The good news is that I returned from a 10-day trip to Thailand to two ripe tomatoes and a third that is very nearly there. I feel lucky to have made it this far and was equally impressed that our friend and house-sitter, David, was able to keep the plant alive, especially since the weather has been unseasonably cold and grey.

The bad news is that the reign of Office Tomato is coming to an end.

I had hoped that the plant would be able to hold on long enough to make it outdoors, but with another months or so to go before tomato planting time, it is clear that a quiet retirement soaking up the sun in the fresh air is not going to be a reality for Office Tomato. The hard work of producing fruit indoors in an inadequate lighting situation is taxing all of the plant’s resources — it is literally on its last legs.

But first, let me backtrack:

I took this photo on March 26, just before heading off to Milwaukee. Already I could see that Office Tomato’s days were numbered and that its health was on a downward slope. I observed that the leaves had begun to curl under and had lost their luster. They just weren’t as green as they should have been.

Fortunately, the fruit itself was healthy so we soldiered on. By now the plant required a healthy drink of water everyday and I supplemented with sea kelp. I could have brought in an artificial light, but by now I was determined to see this experiment through without the aid of lights.

Office Tomato today (April 19, 2011). As you can see it is very ill. The leaves are droopy, yellowing, and getting crispy along the edges. I think it has some kind of viral disease, but the what doesn’t really matter. What matters is that there is no saving the plant. My goal at this point is to try and keep it going long enough to turn out a forth ripe tomato. I doubt the fifth will make it. There are other smaller tomatoes, but those are a lost cause.

What I’d do differently:

  • I stopped hand-pollinating the flowers long ago as I knew the plant would never be able to sustain more than 10 tomatoes. In hindsight I should have cut back new flowering stems the same way I do with my indeterminates near the end of the growing season.
  • I should have supplied a better source of nitrogen earlier in the plant’s growth. I didn’t go out of my way to do so because I did not begin this experiment with the mind to try and produce fruit. I never imagined I would still have the plant so many months later. The reason why I didn’t supply better nitrogen was because I could only find fish emulsion in the boxes of garden gear that are sitting in the basement since we moved here. Fish emulsion stinks. I use it outdoors, but would never try to use it in my office.

Next up: I’ll taste the tomatoes that were produced and let you know how they turned out. Ripe, slicing tomatoes, a whole month before it is safe to put tomato plants outside in my climate and months before I would typically harvest a homegrown slicing tomato… Exciting!

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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8 thoughts on “Office Tomato Update (April 19, 2011)

  1. what a wonderful welcome home! very impressive that you got 3 fruits, that’s one hell of a volunteer!

    ps. wtf is up with this spring?!

  2. … WOW where have I been? … this is beyond impressive. CONGRATS (can’t wait to hear how the tomatoes taste now)!

  3. Sad to hear that your office tomato didn’t make it, but congrats on the fruit you do have, especially so early in the season!

  4. How amazing to have fresh ‘maters right now! Did you consider giving it hits of epsom salt to maintain its health? I know it’s a little late now, but that always seemed to bring back my plants when I could think of nothing else…

  5. RIP office tomato…you have been a in inspiration to us all!

    I have always wanted to do indoor winter tomatoes and I am going to try it this year and use all your trials and tribulations.

  6. I’m surprised you didn’t have more problems with pests and disease. Tomatoes can require a lot of pest management when grown indoors.

    At least you got some really out-of-season tomatoes to eat!

  7. Don’t give up on Office Tomato! Once it warms up, trim it up and set it in the soil out doors. We often get two seasons out of our tomatoes here in Texas. I plant them in the early spring (that’s February here) and I’m just starting to get cherry tomatoes now. It will be too hot for the plants to put on fruit in another month, but I nurse them along, keeeping them alive (albeit sickly looking) through the hot summer. In the fall, I trim, fertilize and get another crop! Try it! Office Tomato needs to GET OUT!

  8. Bravo Office Tomato!! That’s equivalent to what my outside potted tomato plant produced last summer.

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