The Story of the Tomato Bush

Anne Bonfert

A tomato plant that won’t stop growing

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  • Credit: Anne Bonfert
I am very well aware of tomatoes being a plant and not getting classified as a bush. But looking at the mentioned tomato forest above you might agree with me that it’s not a plant. This is one tomato bush.

I’ve never in my life seen something like that. And I have planted many tomato seeds in the ground and watched them grow. And die. But this one is different.

It doesn’t die.

The backstory

Going back in time I remember coming to Namibia earlier this year inspecting my in-law’s garden finding a bush of tomato leaves lying on the ground. It even had ripe tomatoes on it.

Being raised by a dad passionate about growing a sustainable garden I have a bit of knowledge about one or the other vegetables. The one thing I do know about tomatoes is that they are not supposed to be lying on the ground.

They want to grow tall. They just need some assistance. We would usually just put a wooden stick next to each plant. And let them grow with one main stem. Everything else would need to get cut off.

To get all the plant’s power into growing fruits and let them ripe you don’t want any unnecessary branches coming out. Normally. This one is a bit different.

My in-laws gave me the right to do whatever I want in the garden. And with the garden. Being locked in there for several weeks I created a big garden with lots of different vegetables growing.

That was in March this year. I left on the first of June. They got the full harvest of it. And they loved it. Not only tomatoes, but also radish, lettuce, rocket, spinach, and various pumpkin were harvested over the months.

They harvested all of those vegetables during the winter months. I do know it sounds weird but that is how it was.

The climate

Namibia is located in the southern hemisphere of the African continent. Most of the country is covered by the Namib desert. That is also where Swakopmund is, the town we live in. Swakopmund is a coastal town surrounded by nothing but sand and ocean.

Being right on the ocean it never gets really hot or cold. Thanks or due to the Benguela current coming off Antarctica. So despite being in the desert temperatures average all year around between 12 and 27 degrees Celsius.

Perfect conditions for growing vegetables. The only problem is, it never rains. As I said we’re in the desert. Adding some fertilizer to the sand which makes up the soil and watering daily is the key to success.

The life of a tomato bush

After meeting the bush in March I cut it back a bit and gave it sticks to grow upwards on. It flourished like no other tomato plant I’ve ever seen before. Being daily for several hours in the sun and not getting rained on are seemingly the perfect conditions.

However, after I left the tomato bush it did not get much attention anymore. My partner still cut it back for the few more weeks he stayed behind but once he left nobody looked after it.

The cleaning lady comes three times a week to the house and she was the one watering the garden too. So that’s all the care the tomato bush got when I was gone. And apparently, it was enough to survive and produce lots of tomatoes.

Fast forward to December I did not expect to see this tomato bush when I came back. Growing up in Germany I learned the lifetime of a tomato plant is as long as the season. About six months over there.

As soon as the first frost sets in the plants will die and their life is over. When I started growing a vegetable garden here in Namibia I never thought of different seasons. Since there is no frost you can grow them all year round.

And since you can grow them all year around the plants don’t die with the first frost. They just live on. I have no idea how old this tomato bush was when I took it over in March but it might still go on for much longer.

The cut

Looking at this massive bush covered in dead leaves, ripe tomatoes, and lots of blossoms I had to come up with something. The bush was so thick I couldn’t see through it.

I had to trim it. A lot. Despite cutting off lots of tomatoes in the ripening process I had no choice. There were tomatoes within the bush which not even got reached by birds.

While cutting three bags of branches off this bush I found dried tomatoes on the bush. Dried tomatoes are a popular herb in Italian cooking. Now I know how they make them. Just let them hanging for months. On the tomato bush of course.

Just joking. But I’m telling you it wasn’t easy. The trimming of the tomato bush. I just couldn’t figure out which branch was where. They were all grown into each other. It was one big chaotic labyrinth.

Also, the fact of cutting branches filled with tomato flowers and countless green tomatoes did hurt. I was telling myself I had to do this to be able to care for this plant in the future.

The before and after pictures look ridiculous.

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  • Credit: Anne Bonfert
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  • Credit: Anne Bonfert
But I guess it will all grow back. This time under my control. I will choose which branch is allowed to grow and which ones I will trim. Also, lots of tomatoes are still hanging on the bush and I harvested a few ripe ones too.

Those tomatoes that were off, squashed on the ground, or dried out I collected and put them in the bird feeder. I’m sure the birds will like them.

In this last picture, you see the pile of tomato branches I cut off. It really does hurt looking at it. And I don’t even know if I’ve done the right thing. There is nobody here able to tell me how to grow them properly in this climate.

It’s all trial and error.

So wish me luck!

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  • Credit: Anne Bonfert

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I am a traveler. Photographer. Writer. Teacher. Skydiving instructor. Adventure enthusiast. Nature lover. And fell in love with the African continent. My stories go around travel, nature and all kinds of adventurous activities.

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