Tag Archive | "Jersey tomato"

The Green Thumb

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Last year, in 2010, I tried my hand at cultivating a tomato plant. I’d been encouraged by the TV ads demonstrating the ease of growing and maintaining an upside-down plant.  The ads made it seem so simple.  Watching that commercial in which ordinary people reaped the harvest of the fruits of the humble and delicious tomato plant, I decided to give it a try.

My first step was to purchase the kit.  But once I had it in my hands, I found that I had some unanswered questions, including its optimum type of soil and the best way to care for it in order to produce the fruit.  Fortunately, my neighbor, Banjo Joe, who has had years of gardening experience, was within shouting distance. And like a good neighbor, he was there to guide me through the minefields of gardening.

Banjo Joe told me that even though he’d never cultivated an upside-down tomato plant, all it needed was good potting soil, water, and plenty of sunshine.  Armed with this new knowledge, I proceeded with my first attempt at growing tomatoes.

Upon opening the kit, I discovered a cylindrical plastic bag with a special lid and a hole on the bottom; the hole was about 2″ inches in diameter.  There was also a polystyrene split ring to keep the plant in place as it grew.  Because I had once written an article entitled, “Whatever happened to the Jersey Tomato?” I decided to answer my own question.  Thus, I went in search of the Ramapo Tomato, as this was the original variety that made Jersey tomatoes so prized and so famous.

I then went to a local nursery and purchased two plants along with a ten-pound bag of Miracle Grow® potting soil.  My next problem was where and how to hang the plastic bag.

Using my Yankee ingenuity, I purchased a 12-foot metal conduit pipe.  About a foot from the end of this pipe, I attached a plant hanger.  I had also purchased two stainless steel hose clamps; with these, I clamped the pole to my chain link fence. I chose a spot in the sunniest part of my yard.

Then came the moment of truth.  I removed the split ring from the bag, opened the ring, and placed the two plants inside the ring.  Gingerly, I forced the rooted ends into the bag. Once that was accomplished, I hung the bag on the pole and then painstakingly filled the bag with soil.  Once that was done, I gave the plants a good dousing with about a quart of water.  The excess water leaked out of the perforated holes on the bottom of the bag, and I celebrated my first attempt to grow tomatoes!

Every day thereafter, I faithfully watered my plants and watched them grow.  I was as vigilant as a hen with newly hatched chicks.  To my surprise, as the plants began to grow, their leafy arms thrust skyward, reaching for the sun!  Within a few weeks, little yellow flowers appeared in clusters.  These heralded the impending birth of the fruit.

By mid-July, my plants had borne fruit.  Proudly, I called Banjo Joe to tell him the good news.  He and his wife paid me a visit, astounded by the size and color of the tomatoes on the vine.  Just as I was relishing my achievement, we were visited by a long-lasting heat wave, to which my plants did not respond well.  After all my hard work, they began to droop!

In desperation, I moved my plant to a part of my yard that enjoys some shade during the day.  The move was not an easy task.  Under the blistering sun, the ten-pound bag and pole seemed to have tripled in weight.  By summer’s end, the plant was still trying to recover from the murderous heat.  Sadly, all it produced was small, minimal fruit.  Just as in the world of sports, I had experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.   But, there was always next year!

This past May, I got up on my horse again and saddled up (metaphorically, that is … hey, tomato growing is already challenging enough!).  Undaunted, I purchased a tomato plant at my local supermarket. My son Michael had given me a large clay flowerpot and an accompanying tall cylindrical metal trellis.  With these accouterments, I planted my tomatoes in the same semi-shaped part of the yard to which I’d moved my original plant.  Emily Dickinson once wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers.”  In some parts of Jersey, however, hope is that thing with leaves and teeny tiny tomato plants!

So … using the same potting soil as I had the year before, I sat back and let nature take its course.  The plant grew, reaching for the sky.  Hallelujah, brothers and sisters!  However, to hedge my bets, I once again consulted my neighbor for advice; this time, I focused on the issue of fertilizer.  Banjo Joe took me aside, whipping his around quickly as if seeking the presence of spies.  Satisfied that none were in close proximity, he whispered his dirty little secret: “Rabbit poop.”   I smiled at him, awaiting the punch line.

Joe noticed my disbelief and urged, “I’m not kidding about rabbit poop. It’s the best thing you can put on your tomatoes!”  I laughed and said, “I usually put a little mayonnaise and onion on mine.”  As Joe laughed in return, I asked where I might lay my hands on some rabbit poop, adding, “Y’know, Joe, rabbits are hard to catch. I saw a nature special once, and I know that those little critters can go 35 mph, which is a lot faster than I can run!”   Putting his fingers to his lips to conscript my silence, Joe then lead me to the back part of his yard.  To my eyes, it was nothing but your … ahem … garden variety compost heap, complete with leaves and grass clippings.

Perplexed, I asked Joe how exactly he obtained his poop.  Sotto voce, he shared, “I know a guy that raises rabbits; he gives it to me for free.”  Then, I was sworn to secrecy at the risk of our friendship.  Having spilled his secret, Joe then donned his gardening gloves, ever so gently fondled the mixed compost soil, and rose with two handfuls.

We proceeded to my tomato plant; almost tenderly, Joe applied it to my soil, telling that me a little bit of shit goes a long way.  Funny, but that’s the same thing that certain politicians have been heard to mutter as they tiptoe through our nation’s tulips.   Anyway, that very day, my green thumb turned a little greener as the wonders of rabbit poop began to work their magic on my plants.

Joe was a man of his word.  Today, my tomato plant has grown to more than four feet high.  It is blessed with an abundance of many young fruits on the vine, making my mouth water as I await the bumper crop I will surely enjoy with first successful upside-down Ramapo tomato plant.

In case you are wondering about the secret I was sworn never to reveal, my friendship with Joe remains intact.  I don’t know the original source of the rabbit poop, and you don’t know Joe’s whereabouts.  So, unless you bother to track us down through the countless compost heaps festooning the gardens of New Jersey, you will never learn the exact location of Joe’s, uh, unburied treasure. 

As I sit in my yard on my canopied deck, admiring my creation, I think of Joe’s wealth of knowledge concerning fertilizer.  Out of respect for my generous neighbor, I have this to say: “When it comes to fertilizer, Banjo Joe really knows his shit!” 

Whatever Happened to the Jersey Tomato?



Growing up in South Philadelphia during the Great Depression, I enjoyed nothing more than a Jersey Tomato, in a salad or on a sandwich or cooked, it was delicious.  The climate and soil of South Jersey was the birthplace of this wonderful fruit.  When they were harvested, they were hand picked and sent to market.


As time went on, technology demanded a tomato that could be harvested by machines. Campbell Soup Company of New Jersey asked Rutgers University to develop a tomato that could be harvested by machines. Rutgers developed a seed that would produce a tough skinned tomato suitable for machines to pick without damaging the fruit, Campbell Soup Company then contracted Jersey farmers to plant the hybrid seeds. This new tomato tolled the death knell for that once delicious fruit.


As years went by, the people who remember this wonderful fruit started seeking the seeds of the original to plant.  As the Pennsylvania Dutch say, “you don’t know what good is!”  Their efforts helped bring about a resurgence for this wonderful fruit.  So, back by popular demand, the Jersey Tomato has reclaimed its fame. Voila!


Back by Popular Demand!
The Ramapo Tomato was developed at Rutgers NJAES in 1968 by Dr. Bernard Pollack. Many years ago it disappeared from seed catalogues. Seed companies were favoring varieties that produced higher yields for commercial growers. Despite its disappearance, Rutgers continued to receive many requests for this tasty tomato and produced small batches throughout the years. And now, the first commercial lot of organically grown genuine Ramapo F1 hybrid seed is available through an effort by Rutgers NJAES.”

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