Adventures in Bonsall

This story begins with me holding a neighbor’s horse’s tail so the mare could be artificially inseminated with the liquid gold of a dressage champion Oldenburg stallion. It ends with me planting nine new varieties of tomato in my garden, adding to the existing 20+ varieties, and becoming obsessed with dwarf tomatoes. Here’s how I got there.

There’s no place like Bonsall

First of all, how exciting is it that my neighbor is breeding her Swedish warmblood mare and that there may be a baby horse nearby in the future?!?! I learned a lot in a short period of time as the vet checked the mare’s various internal parts, estimated ovulation (she said the timing was amazing) and inserted a couple of syringes. For an hour after, I brushed the lovely dark brown/light black mare Gwendolyn as she slowly emerged from her drug-induced sluggish state.

During that period, my neighbor and I got to talking about gardening and she told me about one of her neighbors who grew and bred tomatoes and dahlias. Hmmm, I thought. I’ve got to check this out.

Being this is Bonsall, I crashed the guy’s place immediately, parking on a gravel driveway and walking by the various little homes until I found him. Also, this being Bonsall, a member of a famous rock band who lives two doors down from me came cruising by on his bicycle and asked if he could help. Eventually, I found the grower’s place and yelled out his name. He came out, I introduced myself, and he insisted we go to the greenhouse.

I followed a shaded dirt path with scattered pine needles and a few paper plates–the castaway china of cat meals after the kitties had finished.

The Greenhouse

In this one trip I only saw the first greenhouse, the little one where the seedlings start. (Next time I’m going to check out Greenhouse #2 when the dahlias are in bloom!) The seedling house gives me some inspiration for the future, because I would love to have an entire greenhouse dedicated to seedlings. I realize that I have a 600 square-foot sunroom, but a girl’s gotta keep dreaming. Anyway, the place was stacked with seedlings. Everywhere you looked: the healthy new green of growing baby plants. Plus a five-gallon pot of giant celery. Tubs of dirt lined with dahlia bulbs that had begun to sprout. Whole dahlia plants. And of course, the tomatoes.

The reason I’m not giving names is that people around here seem to like their privacy. The grower is one of these people, even though after my visit I Googled his named in relation to The Dwarf Tomato Project and there it was. He is one of the original people who worked with Craig LeHoullier on The Dwarf Tomato Project, which basically makes him tomato royalty.

He asked me how many seedlings I would like (I didn’t ask for any seedlings). Realizing I had about 200 seedlings of various varieties of warm season veggies, including tomatoes, at home, I told him I could probably take five. I came home with 38. That’s right: 38 tomato seedlings, two each of 19 varieties. At one point I wondered whether I should just flee the place to keep him from piling more seedlings onto my tray.

After I got home, I planted. Luckily I had just harvested beets and lettuce from a 2 x 8 foot raised bed and had 16 square feet of planting space available. Perfect, I thought, for 9 dwarf tomatoes. (Don’t read too much into that math–I didn’t measure anything just kind of spaced things to where I thought there would be good airflow for these compact varieties.)

Here are the varieties I chose to plant:

  • Adelaide Festival
  • Andy’s Forty
  • Barossa Fest
  • Beauty King
  • Coorong Pink
  • Eqypt Yellow
  • Mallee Rose
  • Scarlet Heart
  • Wild Fred

And here’s a list of all the dwarf tomato seedlings I now have at the house (I’m working on getting enough of all of these to have a big dwarf tomato seedling sale).

Newly planted dwarf tomato seedlings.

What are dwarf tomatoes?

I talked about dwarf tomatoes a bit in another blog, but basically dwarf tomatoes are simply shorter, squatter versions of non-dwarf tomatoes. The Dwarf Tomato Project has produced a number of remarkable varieties because they set about cross-breeding popular varieties of heirloom tomatoes with dwarf varieties. The result: gorgeous, heirloom-like tomatoes on plants that max out at 3 to 6 feet high, depending on the variety. They don’t need massive tomato cages or complex support structures and you can grow them in five-gallon pots (which you may already have lying around) or grow bags.

I’m tentatively planning on hosting a dwarf tomato seedling sale with my grower friend. I’ll see if there’s enough interest. You can buy dwarf tomato seeds directly from Victory Seeds and one variety from San Diego Seed Company that has been localized to our climate for years now. In the meantime, I see that my Tasmanian Chocolate dwarf tomatoes are already forming and I can’t wait for them to continue to grow and ripen!

My Tasmanian Chocolate dwarf tomato. It’s just a couple months old (from seed), but check out the thickness and strength of the stem as well as the tomatoes already forming. Exciting!