Thursday, July 10, 2014

Tomato bonanza

February 17. 2013 2:40AM

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WILKES-BARRE – Move over Big Boy. Take off Jetsonic. Bye-bye Brandywine. The Susquehanna Wildbush has arrived.

The above are varieties of tomatoes, except for the Wildbush.

But give it time.

The eastern shore of the Susquehanna River along the River Common park has yielded a bumper crop. The bank near the amphitheater close to the Market Street Bridge grows thick with tomato plants.

There's a good chance some of them came from Larry O'Malia's farm a few miles upstream in Plains Township.

"I would not doubt that that's what happened," he said.

It's the first he's heard of tomatoes growing wild along the river.

The fertile lowlands where he and others farm were swamped a year ago when the river reached a record crest of 42.66 feet. Their plants were uprooted and had nowhere to go but downstream with the flow.

O'Malia estimated he and the other farmers along the river planted about 100,000 plants last year.

"If a hundred landed there, they could drop seed," he said.

The soil is rich, there's ample water and the growing area is located in a hospitable microclimate.

The fog emanating from the river is a friend to the plants when the temperature drops, he explained.

"It can actually protect tomatoes around the river from early frost," O'Malia said.

Low water isn't a problem either. "The ground alongside the river almost acts sponge-like," he said, and it can pull in water in dry times.

As long as the river tomatoes are washed, O'Malia didn't see a problem eating them.

The ground where they grow isn't much different from the farmlands, he said.

O'Malia's still picking tomatoes from the fields, filling 10 baskets on Friday and 60 baskets the previous week.

Downstream Thursday afternoon, Jim Hughes, his wife, Pat, and son Nick had plenty of small, medium and large tomatoes to pluck.

Hughes, of Wilkes-Barre, found out about the plants from his son, who took a photo with his phone of them while fishing in the area.

The family came with bags and buckets to fill the following day.

"Cherry tomatoes it looks like," said Hughes almost hidden by the vegetation.

"What would you call it, Beefsteak?" he asked, holding a ripened beauty in his hand. "I didn't get this size in my garden."

Pat Hughes said they'd share their pickings with neighbors, seeing they had more than enough for themselves.

No one else had waded into the weeds to pick the plants, many still bearing blossoms and green tomatoes.

"Actually it's a shame to let them all go to waste," she said.

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