Tyler loved tomatoes. He loved their bright red color and smooth skin. He loved the way their seeds spurted out when he bit into them. He loved to dip tiny tomatoes into salt, and he loved the big ones sliced thin in sandwiches.
“Let’s grow some tomatoes in our yard,” Tyler’s dad suggested one day.
“Could we?” Tyler was surprised. He’d never thought of growing tomatoes at home. He thought it would be wonderful to have his very own supply of tasty tomatoes ready to pick whenever he felt like it.
Tyler and his dad chose a sunny spot to plant the tomatoes. Then they dug and prepared the soil until it was loose and fine. While they were working, Mr. Bradley leaned over the back fence. “Going to have some pretty flowers?” he asked.
“Oh, no, Mr. Bradley. This is for my tomatoes,” Tyler told him.
“Humph!” Mr. Bradley growled, frowning. “I’ve never had any luck growing tomatoes here.”
“Dad says we can,” Tyler answered, and he kept raking the ground to make it smooth.
The next morning Tyler and his dad planted six tiny green tomato plants. Tyler watered them carefully. In just a few days they looked bigger. “See, Mr. Bradley,” Tyler said, pointing proudly to his plants, “they’re growing.”
“Just wait, Tyler, just wait,” Mr. Bradley replied smugly.
In several weeks Tyler’s tomato plants blossomed with dozens of star-shaped yellow flowers. “I’m going to have hundreds of tomatoes,” he predicted.
“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” Mr. Bradley told him.
Soon tiny, hard green tomatoes replaced the yellow blossoms. Tyler’s mouth watered as he watched them grow into large tomatoes. Morning and night he checked the plants, hoping to find a ripe tomato. One morning he thought one of the plants seemed smaller. The next day he was sure it had lost some leaves. And the following day it looked scraggly and thin. Tyler noticed some small black droppings under the plant too.
He knelt on the ground and examined all of his plants, leaf by leaf. He studied the shriveled one very carefully. Suddenly he jumped up and hollered, “Wow! Dad, Dad, come quick! There’s a dragon out here.”
A large green worm the size of a thick, round pea pod was greedily munching the leaves of Tyler’s wilted tomato plant. It really did look like a miniature dragon as it inched its fat, segmented body along the stem of the plant, waving the little “horns” on the top of its head from side to side as it moved. It seemed to eat as much as a dragon, too, devouring every leaf in its path.
“How did you ever find it, Tyler?” Dad asked. “That worm is so well camouflaged that it looks just like part of the stem. Only really sharp eyes could have seen it.”
Mr. Bradley leaned over the fence to see what all the excitement was about. “Better spray,” he advised. “The pests get all the prizes, I always say. Give ’em a shot of bug spray—that’s what they deserve.”
“I think we’ll try the old-fashioned method first,” Dad said. He carefully picked the worm off the tomato plant. “Now, Tyler, you check the plants every day, and if you notice any other worms, take them off and kill them. They should be easier to spot now that you know what to look for. Be careful, though—their bite might not be dangerous, but it could sure hurt.”
“Found any more dragons?” Mr. Bradley asked the next time Tyler was out watering.
“Nope,” Tyler answered, “but the tomatoes are finally turning red. Look!” The plants sagged under the weight of the plump tomatoes—some still green, some pale yellow, and some a promising orange.
Finally the day came. “This one is ready, isn’t it, Dad?” Tyler asked as they inspected a big red tomato.
“You bet, and it’s all yours. You grew it, and you get to eat it.”
Tyler gently twisted the tomato from its stem and washed it carefully with water from the hose. Then he sat down on the lawn and took a big bite. Still warm from the sun, the tomato burst in his mouth, spurting juice and seeds down his chin and onto his jeans. Tyler grinned with pleasure.
“Ummm! It’s so good!” he exclaimed, wiping his chin between bites. “Next week, after I eat a few more myself, I’ll pick some for Mr. Bradley. Maybe next year he’ll want to grow tomatoes too.”