Q: Enclosed is an advertisement for a huge bush tomato that seems to good to be true. It promises up to fifty pounds of tomatoes per plant but the plants only grow three feet tall. What do you think about it?
A: I love advertising copy-writers! The person who wrote the full-page advertisement you sent me was probably given just a few lines of information about the tomato in question. Yet he/she was able to spin hundreds of persuasive and seductive words designed to get you to send $2.95 plus $.95 for shipping a single seed! That was the first thing I noticed – you only get a single seed in a small starter pot. Tomato seedlings sell locally for a couple of dollars per six-pack so the price in your ad doesn’t seem attractive at first glance.
But wait – there’s more! The advertisement clearly states that the featured tomato is their trademarked name for the ‘Super Bush’ tomato variety. It was a simple task for me to go to Totally Tomatoes and Tomato Growers Supply to investigate this selection. ‘Super Bush’ is indeed a stocky plant, as the advertisement states. However, one source mentions the average fruit size to be only 5 ounces – so a plant would have to bear 150 tomatoes to approach the promised fifty pounds per plant. The “half-pounders” mentioned in the ad seem to be a stretch of imagination.
Most interesting to me was the advertised assertion that the tomato would bear week after week. Both of the tomato references describe ‘Super Bush’ as a determinate variety. This means that the plant ripens all of its fruit within a short window of time, making it easier for commercial harvesters to pick a field only once. Indeterminate tomatoes bear for a long period and are more likely to bear throughout the summer.
I loved the advertising illustration that showed a tomato measuring more than twenty-one inches in circumference! Simple math tell us that such a tomato would be more than 6.5 inches in diameter. A slice of bread is normally only four or five inches across so a tomato yielding slices of such dimensions would truly be a titan! The copy writer only claims fruit twelve to fourteen inches around so perhaps he and the illustrator did not compare notes.
In defense of the advertiser, if you live in a place where tomato plants are not easily available, perhaps the described plant would be an appropriate purchase. The offer includes a “100% satisfaction or your money back” guarantee. However, the two tomato specialty stores mentioned above offer thirty ‘Super Bush’ seed for only $1.70.