KINGSTON — His garden may be small enough for his dog to run the length in about one second, but John O’Rourke knew he’d have plenty of room for tomato plants, especially after he built a trellis.
His tomato vines have grown over the structure and formed a tunnel that makes picking easy, and for “a backyard farmer,” as he calls himself, O’Rourke does a lot of picking.
“If I don’t pull them just right, they could split,” he said as he harvested some of the tiny cherry and grape varieties on a recent sunny afternoon. “Sometimes I have to pull 100 in order to get 10 good ones.”
It’s not that the other 90 aren’t good — and tasty. O’Rourke and his wife, Diane, enjoy lots of tomato sandwiches and happily share the bounty with friends, neighbors and their four grown children.
It’s just that the avid gardener wants some especially pretty, well-formed specimens to submit to competition at the Bloomsburg Fair, which is set for Sept. 26 to Oct. 3. He’s hoping to add to the collection of 17 ribbons, representing first, second and third place, he’s won during the past five years.
Growers he’s met at past fairs have given him advice on entering fruit, including a tip about leaving a bit of the green stem on each tomato because it looks attractive. “The farmers I’ve met there have been really nice,” he said.
He’s also learned from experience he should bring along extra tomatoes, more than he plans to enter, because some might start to show their age on the 40-mile trip to Bloomsburg.
O’Rourke plans to enter several categories of tomatoes — cherry, grape, larger red and yellow varieties, Roma tomatoes, perhaps even a sample of green tomatoes.
Depending on the size, he’ll include 10 small tomatoes, five medium or three large ones in an entry.
“Everybody’s got a hobby,” he said as he searched for more tomatoes and put them on his porch banister for further ripening.
“I used to roller skate, until I was about 73 or 74,” he said, explaining a herniated disk and sciatica prevent him from enjoying that pastime now.
But O’Rourke, 77, who is retired after 40 years with Acme Markets, keeps busy with his tomatoes as well as some peppers and cucumbers on his “backyard farm.”
“I start in April, turning the ground over,” he said. “By June I’m spending two hours a day out here.”
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT