I was surprised to see a tomato plant appear in one of my flower beds early this summer. At first I thought my eyes deceived me – maybe this plant just looked like a tomato. But when I got closer to touch the foliage, they even smelled like tomato leaves. Hmm, methinks.

Tomatoes

These cluster tomatoes miraculously appeared in a bed that had been spread with homemade compost.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Compost

While there are still a few intact leaves, this compost is ready to go into my garden.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Compost bin

My compost bin reminds me of Darth Vader’s helmet. (“Luke, I am your compost…”)

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

I explained this to myself by saying, “Maybe I dropped a tomato seed while eating a hamburger on our deck.” (The new plant was only a couple of feet away from our outdoor dining area.) That explanation worked for a while, until another tomato appeared…and then a third – all in the same bed but yards away from each other. I knew I hadn’t been that messy while chowing down, so why were all those tomatoes materializing in that bed?

It all made sense to me this morning, when I went to spread some compost and saw lots of intact flowers, fruits and leaves in it. Turns out my compost isn’t very hot, so lots of seeds have survived the composting process. While my compost is working, as you can see from the pictures, it works slowly. And it takes longer for all the matter inside of it to break down properly.

I mix a lot of leaves and vegetable scraps from the kitchen into my compost bin. But I don’t mix in grass trimmings or weeds, since my compost bin is small. I have an enclosed bin that keeps everything neat, but it’s barely big enough to generate the heat that’s necessary for leaves and veggies to break down. It’s also in complete shade, which is a no-no, but it’s close to my kitchen, which encourages me to use it more often. (If I put the bin in full sun, all that organic matter would break down faster, but I’d probably use it less.)

Fortunately for me, I’ve had nothing but pleasant surprises from my compost – extra tomatoes – oh, and a strawberry plant and two pansies! If my bin were bigger so it could have accommodated grass clippings and weeds, a weed problem likely would have sprouted, too. So I’ve been lucky. Fortunately, I’ve been careful to add only good things to make lush, rich, weed-free compost. As you can see from the picture, my surprise tomatoes are beautiful, and I plan to harvest them in a couple of weeks. (Now I can’t wait to see what turns up next spring!)