Andy Pollock

Mendel to Midas: How Andy Pollock got his golden green thumb

No one will ever guess the recipe for Andy Pollock. The best you can do is chew over a few ingredients.

No one will ever guess the recipe for Andy Pollock. The best you can do is chew over a few of the ingredients:

  • 80 years young
  • career carpenter
  • cook from age four
  • bred two new tomatoes
  • grocery shops once
  • cans 300+ jars of produce per year
  • avid reader
  • avid eater
  • throws the number-one dinner on Buck Flats Road

Today, Pollock swears he’s slowing his down.

“My old body—I think the warranty’s run out,” he says, laughing.

But “slowing down” is a relative term, and Pollock is no garden-variety grower.

One day, when he was still living in Kamloops, Pollock’s boss, the school district superintendent, made the mistake of telling him how much he liked beets.

Pollock pulled one for him the next day, but finding him out of the office, he just left it on the desk.

“It was a huge beet,” Pollock says, chuckling. “I’m not exaggerating—it had to be at least nine inches across and about a foot long.”

“I came in the night after that, and he was just shaking his head.”

Later that fall, Pollock asked the superintendent if he also liked squash.

He said yes.

But he didn’t say how much. This time, when he came to work he found a 50-pound squash waiting for him.

“I didn’t see him for about two weeks, and then he says, ‘We’ve eaten squash every day, we’ve given squash away—I don’t know what the heck we’re going to do, we’ve still got squash!”

Forty years in, Pollock says that everything he touches, plant-wise, seems to be “just liberated.”

But it wasn’t always that way.

Pollock only got the gardening bug in 1973, after a winter poring over the new Organic Gardening magazine. True to form, his first try was on a full acre of raw land, and he spent six weeks clearing stumps and rocks.

“That first year, I couldn’t even grow a good crop of weeds,” he said. Although it was good sandy loam, Pollock found out that his land had been pretty well sterilized by forest fire.

By summer, he said, it was cracked like the bottom of a dried-up lake.

Luckily, Pollock knew a rancher who happened to have 150 tons of rotten alfalfa hay. Loading his pickup with 60 square bales at a time, Pollock mulched his entire whole acre.

Starting in the corn rows, he stripped off peels of hay and laid them down so that they overlapped like a deck of cards piled four inches deep. As he worked his way across the rows, he saw the corn grow twice as tall in the mulched areas, and a much more vibrant green.

Mulch is a great friend to the gardener, Pollock said, and he still uses hay every year.

“It holds the moisture, it rots and adds humous to the soil,” he said. “As it rots, it gives off a few degrees of heat, and that keeps the frost away. And it adds to flora and fauna, right down to the bacterial level.”

A carpenter by trade, Pollock took five years to design and build his Buck Flats home— dozens of seedling trays and 500 cookbooks now fit snug in the half-circle of windows and inlaid shelves in his living room.

It took two more years for Pollock to build his largest greenhouse.

“I dug a trench four feet wide, three feet deep, and 20 feet long, all by hand” he says, sketching the plans on a napkin that just came out of the kitchen with a home-baked biscuit, a crab-apple jelly and a cherry jam.

The greenhouse is designed so that when Pollock steps down to its duck board floor (“I have a resident toad underneath”), all 70 square feet of its planting beds stand just below waist height and can be watered by a gravity-fed hose that runs to a rain barrel up above.

It’s inside that greenhouse where Pollock raises the tomato that has taken his name—the Pollock Select.

For over 30 years, Pollock has only grown tomatoes from one original strain, called Bonny Best. Developed by Agricultural Canada in 1908, he describes it as a great tasting, highly productive plant, growing six to eight-ounce tomatoes that can just fit the mouth of a mason jar.

One spring, Pollock noticed a “sport” in his garden—the seedling of a naturally mutated tomato with a different leaf structure than its neighbours. He grew it, saved its seeds, and, Houston style, he began using flagging tape to track the first of the new plants to set buds, to fruit, and to ripen.

“I was selecting for earliness, flavour, hardiness, vigour, and I also managed to end up with a fruit that has virtually no core,” he said.

The leaves of Pollock’s own tomato cultivar are distinctly less serrated than those of the Bonny Best tomato it developed from.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reaching for a handful of photos showing the resulting plant, three decades later, he said, “Okay, I’m glad you’re sitting down.”

In the photo is Pollock standing by a specimen of his second selected offshoot—the Buck Flats Wonder. The particular plant was one he gave to a neighbour, who only started growing it in mid July.

She called it her “tree.”

Standing four feet across and six feet high, the tomato plant towers above Pollock in the picture and looks “like a Christmas tree covered in red balls.”

Why Pollock grows to such great lengths is obvious to anyone lucky enough to dine on his home-grown food.

Taking a cue from his mother, who “made food sing,” Pollock takes as much care with his 100+ home recipes as he does with his tomatoes. He served a 12-course Thai dinner six weeks ago, a Cambodian dinner a month before that.

“I make a Sri Lankan pork vindaloo that is totally incendiary,” he says with a note of mischief.

“I don’t grow anything that I can’t eat,” he says. “And I’ll eat anything that doesn’t eat me first.”

 

Andy Pollock shows off a jar of green and small red tomatoes, preserved with a layer of olive oil and vinegar rather than a vacuum seal.

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