Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!
March 15, 2006 5:47 PM   Subscribe

I have a tomato that sat, neglected, on a countertop for longer than it probably should have. Instead of beginning to molder and rot, however, it began to sprout! It is now shooting off several little baby tomato plants. How can I best get these to some dirt and encourage them to live rather than to die a horrible, desiccated death at the hands of bad soil and my brown thumb?
posted by kaseijin to Food & Drink (6 answers total)
Are they growing out of the tomato itself? What's the consistency of the tomato (shrivelled, soggy, what?) How many seedlings, and how far apart? What's the weather like where you are?

You might be able to gently cut them free of the base, pulling as many roots out with them as you can, and then just tuck them tenderly into some good quality potting soil with just the green parts sticking out.

Or, if this seems too tricky, just put tomato-and-all into the dirt and cover with soil up to the new leaves. Water well and give plenty of warmth and sun. Water is vital! Tomato seedlings are surprisingly tough and can grow in some weird places (on hay bales, upside down, in hydroponics) provided they have enough water and sun.
posted by Rubber Soul at 7:42 PM on March 15, 2006

My only advice is that as soon as the seedlings are the least bit substantial (say an inch or two) to split them up to their own pots. The bigger the pots, the bigger your tomato plants will be.
posted by furtive at 8:17 PM on March 15, 2006

Best answer: Ahem, sorry to burst your bubble, but supermarket tomatoes are usually hybrids, and as such don't produce true seed--so, unless you bought them at the local Whole Foods and they were labelled 'heirloom,' you're probably going to be disappointed. See hybrid vigor, and be aware that you may get naaasty tomatoes.

...but, if you want to save them to serve some kind of deep-ecology sentiment, plant them in 3" pots in regular seed-starting mix and given them as much light as possible. A bright south window or a flourescent fixture 3" above their topmost leaf isn't too much--the more light they get now, the better they'll be able to deal when you plant them outside in the blistering sunlight after the last frost date in your region. Fertilize a bit if you're nervous or planning to keep them in pots for their whole lives. I seem to remember that baby tomatoes like it around 70 degrees F.

As an aside, you may have a rather rare tomato there. Tomato seeds have a germination inhibitor which is usually intended to keep this kind of thing from happening, and you could have a genetic freak here that didn't make any of them. Usually the inhibitors are disabled by the fermentation of the tomato pulp after the tomato falls to the ground & decays...which may be what happened on your counter.
posted by pullayup at 8:25 PM on March 15, 2006

Response by poster: Rubber Soul: The tomato is still firm, round, and red, if that helps... in fact, the only apparent difference between this tomato and one I would buy from the market is the presence of green seedlings jutting forth from it. It looks to be otherwise tasty.

pullayup: I hadn't really considered that about most commercial strains not producing true seed. I wonder if the seedlings, then, would be sterile?

Curiously enough, the tomato sat in a 70 degree house, near a window with southern exposure, and about 4 inches under a flourescent fixture. Strange! o_O;

Unfortunately, this wasn't an heirloom tomato, so I fear that you may be correct about possible lack of future tomatoes - but wouldn't that sort of hybrid breeding done by the seed industry also mean that the tomato wouldn't produce seedlings at all?
posted by kaseijin at 4:24 AM on March 16, 2006

Probably not sterile--I don't think there's such thing as a GM 'terminator tomato' yet--but you never know what you'll get. The seeds from your tomato have already sprouted, proving that it is capable of producing viable seed, and I'm going to guess (it's been a long while since I thought about Mendelian inheritance or whatever) that the subsequent generations would be viable too, but whether you'll get the next Mortgage Lifter is sort of a crapshoot.
posted by pullayup at 6:04 AM on March 16, 2006

You might eat it – a friend of mine often has forces his food to sprout on purpose, he finds the results delicious.

He does this quite often with legumes – he made a hummus from sproutted chickpeas recently.
posted by blasdelf at 9:35 PM on March 16, 2006

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