This week I read an article about a 74-year-old Ohio man growing a 12-foot-tall tomato plant in his small backyard. The giant plant has already yielded 750 grape tomatoes this year. In fact, 2013 marks the third year that Bob Goettemoeller’s tomato plant has reached nearly 12 feet. He says, in all, he’s harvested more than 4,000 tomatoes from his tomato plants in the last two years.
Goettemoeller’s "secret ingredient” for taking his 12- to 18-inch plants to tree-sized heights is unique and perhaps a little disturbing to some. Each spring, he buries a dead rabbit or other small animal, such as a chipmunk, in a 1-foot-deep hole. Then he plants his tomato plant on top. It’s not a method extension specialists recommend due to potential spread of disease, but the technique is obviously working for Goettemoeller. And while the method might not be completely original—the Wampanoag Indian tribe taught the Pilgrims their way of burying a fish alongside beans and squash—it is certainly imaginative!
Goettemoeller’s story is inspiring to me for many reasons. First, he and his wife used to have an extensive garden on their 1-acre property before moving to a condominium with limited space. But Goettemoeller didn’t let a small yard limit his gardening aspirations. When he could no longer expand his crop horizontally, he turned his green thumb toward the sky, growing his one plant vertically without boundaries. Space would not limit his ability or what he imagined he could achieve under his new circumstances.
Goettemoeller’s determination and imagination is displayed in not only how high he is able to grow his plant, which requires a full-sized ladder to harvest at its peak height, but also by his idea that nutrients from a decomposing animal could provide it with a source of nitrogen and organic matter. With a little imagination and ingenuity, he found a simple recipe for great tomato-growing success.
But Goettemoeller doesn’t rely on just his imagination or perhaps a bit of grower’s luck. Imagination requires action to become reality. He carefully nurtures his tomato "tree” from its young start by placing plastic around it with a light bulb inside to keep it warm on chilly nights. He encourages the plant’s growth with a 10-foot-tall cylinder of concrete mesh for the plant to climb to unprecedented heights.
Lastly, Goettemoeller doesn’t keep his harvest to himself. While he and his wife enjoy a seemingly endless supply of cherry tomatoes each year, he gives most of the small, red jewels away and is able to share the fruits of his meticulous labor of love and limitless imagination.
Now that his secret ingredient is out of the bag, I suspect some of Goettemoller’s neighbors might turn their noses up to his tomato offering this year. Others might not care at all. Either way, at least they can say they know the generous man with the 12-foot tomato plant—a determined man with a green thumb, tall ladder and a darn-good imagination!
Today, let’s celebrate the limitless imaginations of all the Bob Goettemoellers we know, who inspire us by making our world a little more interesting and a little more curious.
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