Dan, Dan, the Tomato Man

Danny McAuliffe

Photo by Rose Dinelli

During the late spring, while some of us are capitalizing on the ever-increasing sunrays for a more golden glow, 33-year-old Danny McAuliffe, or, as his friends call him, “Dan, Dan, the Tomato Man,” is out and about 24/7, praying on a daily basis that the weather will stay hot and sunny to provide sufficient sunlight for his newborn, growing tomatoes. When he isn’t complaining about the ref’s calls during a Kings game, he is out in his garden complaining about the fire station next to his house that is blocking essential rays needed for his tomatoes—or, as he calls them, his “babies.” Dan says the only way his tomatoes can grow up into big, plump, juicy “red daddies,” is to sprinkle them with a little tomato fertilizer. But this has his fellow competitive tomato-growers in an uproar, who insist on not using any chemicals on their tomatoes. Dan insists that his babies need all the help they can get.

Has anyone in your past inspired you to grow tomatoes?

Sure—my Uncle Bill, my Dad, and even a past girlfriend. My Dad inspired me the most; he had all this space with sun blazing all over in the back yard, so he decided to grown some babies.

Have you always called your new crop of tomatoes “babies"?

Yeah, man, they’re babies until they’re red, fat and juicy, then they graduate to “red daddies.”

What is the key to juicy, red tomatoes?

OK, first let’s get one thing straight—let’s talk about water, and how to use very little of it. Here’s my secret—I don’t really want to give it away, but I guess I will—I starve them for water. That’s the key, because if you overwater your soil, the tomatoes will freak out, they hate it. I think they pull the water deep beneath the soil, so if the soil is too saturated, then the tomatoes are weaker and not bountiful.

What is the deal with chicken manure?

I don’t know, but my babies love chicken poop, they flourish to no end with that stuff—I guess I just gave away another secret! That’s OK, ‘cause I want everyone to have plump, juicy ones.

Did the hailstorm a couple of weeks ago affect your tomatoes?

Weather can be a big factor on a crop of tomatoes. When that cold front came in, I thought my entire row of tomato plants was going to get swept up by a tornado. My roof was shaking, the wind was howling, and I thought for sure my tomatoes would not survive. So, the next day, I went out and bought some fertilizer to help my tomatoes with the shock of the weather change—it did the trick. My tomatoes looked a little tired and the leaves had giant holes in them from the storm, but now they are fine.

Do you really belong to a tomato club?

Well, sort of. One of my best friends and I have a competition going. You see, he prides himself on not using any fertilizer—but his tomatoes didn’t get hit by that crazy hailstorm. Anyhow, we compete on a daily basis on who has the most tomatoes on the vines, and whose tomatoes are bigger. He won last year, so this year, I am prepared to win.

Do you have any other hobbies besides tomatoes?

Well, not at the moment—sounds like I should get one doesn’t it? I don’t know why, but my growing something from the earth, nurturing it and watching it come to life is an amazing accomplishment—one I never want to give up. I think I am a farmer at heart.

What do you do about the tomato worm?

I want to kill them all—I just hate that they could destroy my babies. I know this is a bit over the edge, but I actually go out there in my garden with a magnifying glass and look for tomato worm eggs before they hatch.

Do other people or family members think you’re crazy for your tomato fetish?

Come on, man, they would think I was crazy, regardless. I think everyone is crazy, but only a selected few will let their craziness out, but not me, I don’t want to be in my 80s and have all this tomato fetish pent up inside. So, I am true to myself and to my craziness. I love to raise tomatoes and I don’t care what anyone thinks of it.

What is your favorite thing about being a tomato grower?

Going out to my garden in the middle of summer—oh, the smell of fresh red daddies ready to be picked. I look for the ripest one, pick it, and bring it inside to make my favorite dish with a newly picked tomato—a “Dan Hamburger,” that’s my specialty. I cut it up and the juice slides down my cutting board, I stick the slices on my hamburger, and hopefully, there are people over so I can serve them my prized possessions. To see happy faces eat my tomatoes—well, let’s just say it’s very satisfying.

What do you do when tomato season is over?

Man—let’s not even go there. Right now I am in heaven, and I don’t want to even think about the "F" word—fall. When fall hits, I just really look forward to the next season and think of ways that I can improve my red daddy harvest.