A Tomato Plant Grows (slowly) in Geneva

For years I have been theoretically committed to learning how to grow some of my own produce. I can’t think of a good reason why not to! It involves dirt, fresh produce, it is a more sustainable means of food production, you can better control what you eat, and urban gardening is just the coolest concept of our time – RIGHT?

But I have not been known for my green thumbs, and I’ve got a very whiny inner couch-potato. Plus, with the travel schedule I maintain, growing anything has been next to impossible. Yes, I could get a neighbor to help water my plants while I’m away… but that would involve meeting the neighbors. Which takes effort. Etc. And if that’s not illustrative enough, I should report that my attempt at an herb garden last year turned into a miniature graveyard within two weeks, no joke.

So this year, when I tripped over this announcement by Tomates Urbaines, I jumped at the opportunity to try my hand, once again, at making things grow at home.

It was April when I received my seeds from Tomates Urbaines. After first spilling the seeds all over the floor, I swept them up and managed to sprinkle them into the bottom of a small plastic bin to get them started (I can’t say for sure if a few other things that I picked up off the floor didn’t get planted as well….).  You cannot possibly imagine my childlike excitement when they first sprouted!  Who needs the whole tomato? Just this tiny little sprout was enough to make me feel accomplished.

my first little sprouts!

my first little sprouts!

Well, not really. I do want the tomatoes I said to myself, to which my inner couch-potato sighed.

Next, my travel schedule kicked in – two weeks solid without being home, and no one there to water my little babies. I took a chance and put the bins outside, crossing my fingers that nature would do its thang. I was convinced I would come home to mud. But lo and behold! My little sprouts had grown up to be proper toddler plants!

The time soon came when I needed to pot them. But I didn’t have any pots. And it was a Sunday, in Geneva, which means: nowhere to go to buy pots. Foiled again, this time they would die for sure.

But then, lifesaver, my partner reminded me of the old plastic bottle trick. With my inner couch potato kicking and screaming, I spent my afternoon sawing off the bottoms of the bottles (with some help from the muscle man in my life) and viciously stabbing holes into their bottoms for drainage.  Then I nervously pricked the roots out of the dirt with a pencil, and placed them into new little pots. And wouldn’t you know, they didn’t collapse and die in the process. Amazing!


My eight tomato plants looked like a much messier version of these (photo taken from http://www.insideurbangreen.org)

In May, I once again had to abandon the kiddies for nearly two weeks. I bid farewell to them, leaving them outdoors again, assuming (again) that they would die a miserable death either by drowning or dehydration. But by now, I think you know how the story goes: when I got back, they were totally fine!

The month of June has gone by like a flash. I re-potted them since they were getting super tall. Tomates Urbaines had announced I should be seeing leaves growing out of the armpits of the branches by now, which I should prune. But why were there no little leaves in MY plants’ armpits?? I freaked that my babies were falling behind the pack. What would it take? Special ed classes? More parental supervision? Love?? Yes to all is what I was guessing.

This is kind of what they looked like at this stage.

This is kind of what they looked like at this stage.


So, a bit behind schedule, I finally bought bigger pots, tons of soil, sticks, and wire, and finally made the move to put them outside permanently. Their stems are thickening and I’m pruning those little leaves that grow out of the armpits of the larger stems and branches. I haven’t bothered to buy fertilizer, which I managed to forget last time I went to the DIY shop. And out of sheer convenience, I’m naively assuming no fungus or disease would dare go near my little tomato elves.


no branches from the armpits yet

my pre-teen tomato garden

Now it’s July, and Tomates Urbaines says they should soon be bearing fruit. WHAT FRUIT?? I don’t see even the bud of a possible fruit on my plants! Are they not getting enough sun? Water? Do I really have to haul ass and get that fertilizer?  But it’s summer summer summer tiiiiime! Time for sleeping and reading and lazing around!

But I can’t give up now, no! I’ve come this far. Couch potato or no couch potato, I will make tomatoes happen. As soon as I’ve finished watching this YouTube clip of the hamster eating the burrito…



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8 thoughts on “A Tomato Plant Grows (slowly) in Geneva

  1. The NY guy says:

    Great post. Congratulations! I’ll be in GVA in October, would love o sample the results. I’ll bring the Pastrami!

  2. Kate says:

    i feel your pain! i’ve never had much luck growing tomatoes in pots. i’d say the slow growth is probably due to a mix of moving them outside this late in the season (i planted mine in the garden in may and they’re only now growing fruit, still green) and also just the weird weather we’ve been having. the calendar may say july, but those plants are probably thinking it’s still spring. don’t put too much importance on what tomates urbaines said the plants should be doing now. plants are living things whose growth we can’t always control, and even between plants with equal treatment you’ll have different action going on. just treat them with love 🙂
    also, go easy on the water — underwatering (though not to the point that they shrivel up) is actually good for the plants because it forces the roots to go looking for water in the soil, which makes for a stronger root system and stronger plant. i’ve heard that in southern italy it’s common practice to not water tomatoes at all. but then italy is known for its disgusting tomatoes so i probably shouldn’t take their advice 😉

    • Kate says:

      excessive smileys, apologies for that

      • Kate says:

        and PS, last year i planted super late, nearly the end of june, and we still got tomatoes, albeit later in the season than people who’d planted earlier. so being a bit late doesn’t mean you won’t get tomatoes (assuming that winter doesn’t start in september).

    • Thanks for the tips! Good to know the rules are not set in stone. Still no fruit, and so so sooooo much rain! Debating whether to pull them inside for a few days, but then they’ll be short of sun….. :/

  3. Sehr says:

    I’m so very proud of you for sticking through this process! It was so neat to read this post and view the photos of the plants’ growth! Good for you Claire 🙂 Inspiring xx

    • Thanks Sehri! Now struggling through the powerlessness of the teen years: what will they be exposed to out in the great wide open?? So much feels out of my control, haha. Just have to trust I guess, and keep an eye on em and give em a warm home…. teehee. xo

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