Nicky Thomas, Carmel Valley, CA
Shop: The Gifted Tomato
How did you get involved with gardening and gardening products? What led you to it?
I began gardening out of sheer boredom when I first moved to the US from South Africa in 1989. I was waiting for my green card to come through so that I could work and didn’t have anything to do during the day while my husband worked. I already knew quite a lot about gardening and flowers as my grandfather was a master gardener and specialized in Proteas. I had wanted to go to Agricultural College after graduating high school and study Botany but it was not open to woman back then.
In 1992 I discovered a strange and wonderful “new” variety of Tomatoes. What we call today, Heirloom Tomatoes, and became hooked on growing them in my spare time. The 2nd year growing I planted 500 plants. This was when I discovered that you could actually sell produce you grew. No one else was growing these tomatoes and I was getting calls from chefs all over the county. The organic gardening movement was just beginning.
What do you get out of gardening and creating gardening products? How has it improved or changed your life or the lives of others? Why do you feel it is vital or important?
Growing organic, pesticide free produce has given me a whole new understanding of what good food tastes like and what it should taste like. The difference in a store bought tomato and a homegrown tomato is like chalk and cheese; completely different vegetables even if they have the same name or are the same variety. Growing my own garden not only provides my family with wonderful vegetables but I know that the vegetables I put on the table each night contain nothing but soil and sunlight. I feel it is vitally important to teach people, especially kids, that growing vegetables is not only very easy but very important to their health, and the planet’s health; (helps with the budget too).
The most important aspect of my garden is my kids. They are far more likely to sit in the middle of a row of peas and eat as many as they can pick or eat all the cherry tomatoes before I get any. Also they will eat the vegetables raw, far quicker than if they are cooked. My daughter likes to make “Tacos”. She will pick a Kale leaf or a Lettuce leaf and then walk around the garden filling the leaf with different vegetables, whatever she can find, depending on the season and then eat her “Taco”. My favorite are 2 strawberries with Blackberries or raspberries squished in between. So I would have to say that my favorite products in my store are those that teach kids to grow “stuff”.
What feedback have you received about your garden and products?
I have received very good response to my products and am planning on expanding the kids items especially. After years of trying every product under the sun, I know what the easiest way to be successful at growing vegetables is. That is what I offer.
Do you have any advice for others interested in starting a garden or getting involved with guerilla gardening or gardening product creation?
My whole goal in starting my shop is to show even “black thumbs” that gardening can be easy, lots of fun, a very healthy family activity with a huge reward. You can grow a garden even if the only space available is a pot on the deck.
In your opinion, why is gardening an art form?
I don’t think gardening is an art form at all. It’s a muddy, messy, fun experience. Anyone who has tried to garden with kids knows they have their own ideas on how things should be done and the trick is to “go with the flow”. Vegetable gardening is very forgiving.
Do you have any seed bomb/gardening product recipes to share and where is it best to throw? Do you have any favorite gardening products you’d recommend to fellow gardeners or advice about gardening?
Seed bombs are easy to make, seeds and wet paper. Fun on a rainy day with kids. Good gardening products? Most of the time I buy the best quality I can afford but then I am a full time gardener. All you really need is a shovel, a rake, pruners and a decent pair of gloves. Don’t buy gloves for kids, waste of time and money. They will wear them for 5 seconds and that’s it. No need for “fancy schmancy” stuff. The basic tools work just fine.
P.S. My wheel barrow just broke, finally. While staring at it, thinking “what the hell,” I realized I bought it in 1994. It’s older than my kids!
What’s your favorite plant and why?
Favorite plant … any heirloom vegetable, but I lean towards Tomatoes and Pumpkins and lettuce and beans and cantaloupe and carrots and peppers and …and ….and ….
Why do others need to get involved with gardening aside from replenishing the earth, saving and providing an environment to foster insect and animal life and beautification of the Earth? How has it influenced you on a spiritual or emotional level or evolved you as a person, if it has?
The best reason to get involved in gardening is: Well, I could spend about 10 pages talking about the planet, GMO’s, saving the environment and on and on. For me, it is the experience and the sense of accomplishment each day brings. The sun shining through the mist early in the morning, The smell of warm, damp soil as you dig to plant, the smell of sun ripened tomatoes as the juice runs down your chin, the smile on your child’s face as they find the first strawberry or blackberry of the season, the feel of sunburn and aching muscles while you rest on the deck at the end of the day with a glass of wine and admire your garden. That is what restores your soul.