When the tomatoes overflowed

Going a little overboard on tomato plants in the spring led to a lot of tomatoes in the fall.

A bumper crop of tomatoes may last the Schlecht family until winter. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

The gardening started in the spring, when the ground was still pretty frozen and we were still wearing winter coats, when the desire to grow something combined with the need to keep my kid busy on the long days she spent at home with me doing online school. Plus, in those days, we all were a bit concerned about seeing occasional empty spots at the grocery store at the beginning of the pandemic.

I've tried to start plants from seeds in the past with little luck, often because I'd forget something vital like water or sunlight. So, we started a lot of seedlings, dozens of them, in fact. I had it in my head that I'd maybe get two or three cherry tomato seedlings and a couple more plants that would yield medium-sized tomatoes, maybe a bell pepper plant or two, a couple cabbages and some flowers to help fill out the bed in front of the house.

I was wrong.

Instead, when it came time to plant, I had more than half a dozen medium-sized tomato plants, nearly a dozen cherry tomato plants, a half-dozen or so pepper plants and a full dozen cabbage plants. I figured most of them wouldn't survive.

I was wrong again.


A few months ago, I harvested something like 10 cabbages, most of which are in my freezer now. That seemed a little crazy. But it was nothing compared to the bumper crop of tomatoes to come.

For the past couple months, we've been picking bowls full of tomatoes every couple days. I've frozen some and we've eaten a lot, and our multitude of plants didn't seem so extreme. But the plants kept growing. And growing. And flowering. I've never had tomato plants produce so much for so long. I covered them for two nights in September when frost was in the forecast. Afterward, they continued to grow and grow. Even the two tiniest plants — ones I never expected to live and haphazardly planted in my flower bed — flourished, overpowering everything around them and keeping me up to my elbows in tomatoes.

Finally last week, the forecast for the coming days was cold enough that I decided the plants had reached their end. My daughters and I spent a few hours one Saturday afternoon filling box after box with tomatoes in various states of ripeness. Most of the green ones went onto shelves in the basement, hopefully to give us fresh tomatoes until the ground again is frozen.

The grocery store shelves are full again. It's been months since I've struggled to find something on my shopping list. But I'm still glad we went a little overboard on our gardening. When the snow inevitably flies, we'll have tomatoes and potatoes and carrots and cabbage to nourish us. And when those run out, farmers from other places, where the ground doesn't freeze and get covered in snow, will be doing their best to make sure we all have plenty to eat.

When the day comes in the spring when we again feel the need to grow something, I hope I remember that a few seeds can go a long ways when they're properly cared for. And I hope I've used all these tomatoes by then, too.

Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's content manager. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at or 701-595-0425.

Jenny Schlecht is the director of ag content for Agweek and serves as editor of Agweek, Sugarbeet Grower and BeanGrower. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at or 701-595-0425.
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