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Loose Ends: Somewhere in my garden...IT grows

Tomatoes had a great season this year, didn't they?

Some folks just seem to have a green (or red) thumb, and their plants grow and grow, sending out wave after wave of that luscious fruit.

My plants don't seem to do so well. I'm enthusiastic but not always great about feeding, weeding and watering. A plant has to be tough to make it in my yard.

It's a thrill to sit down to a meal that has home-grown produce -- whether planted by me, donated by friends and coworkers, or bought at our local farmers market.

The Journal's photo expert, Susanne Loosmore, has been sharing tomatoes and peppers from her garden; columnist Dave Wood has brought out basil and tomatoes; publisher Steve Dzubay keeps us well supplied from his veggie garden; sales rep Lori Humphrey has brought in bags of the yummiest little apples grown on trees right in her own back yard.

We should all be the healthiest folks in River Falls with all these good and natural foods.

My gardens have supplied some decent produce over the years, but occasionally I'm surprised by what happens out in the "back 40."

One spring long ago I planted some melon and tomato plants. Not knowing much about gardening at the time, I planted them too close together. Unfortunately, those poor plants never stood a chance.

Little did I know that the plants would fight back!

Are you aware that tomatoes and cantaloupes can cross-pollinate? I wasn't.

As summer progressed I watered and fertilized and worried over my "babies."

And as summer waned I looked and looked but never did find a single melon in that jungle of vines.

But the tomato plants were healthy as could be. Flowers were popping up all over and fruits were set.

The plants grew and grew, creeping steadily out of their cages and into the lawn. By July there were many small green tomatoes hanging on those vines.

I was so proud.

But they never grew larger than ping-pong ball size, and, as they got to about three inches around, they developed dark green netting. Even worse than their looks, the little balls were hard as rocks. They never ripened or softened.

Now I was not so proud.

Whatever had I grown? I could find no reference in gardening books about this phenomenon.

How could two species inter-pollinate and actually produce a fruit? Or was it a vegetable?

Wait a minute, tomato and cantaloupes are both fruits. Maybe that's how it happened. Who knew?

Some might have been disheartened. Not me.

I decided to call them "tomalopes" and hauled a basketful down to the Whole Earth Store to see if anyone there might enjoy my bounty.

While the store volunteers were interested in my gardening efforts, they did seem to be alarmed by my mutants. After much laughter it was decided that I'd better keep my little guys away from their nice, big, healthy organic produce.

Who would have thought there was such a dark side to gardening?

Since then -- armed with a shovel, just in case -- I try to keep an eye on just what's growing out there.