Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Tomato Saga

As a kid, I remember looking at my dad's vegetable garden and not thinking much about it other than the fact that gardening was his favorite hobby. Now I truly value all the effort he put into having such a successful garden and wish he were still alive to give me gardening advice that only a father knows how to do.

After many years of not attempting a vegetable garden due to lack of sunlight in my yard, my neighbor, in one fell swoop, decided to chop down three trees shading our house. After bemoaning the summer heat that would overwhelm our house, I began to remember my dad's tomatoes. Sunshine! Tomato plants! They go together, I thought.

Last year's tomatoes, my first tomato plantings after many years, ended up at the end of the season looking not much different than what I would imagine Brer Rabbit's briar patch looked like. Tomato plants hanging out of wire cages in all direction, some even clinging to the ground for dear life.

This year will be different, I thought. No cages this year. They didn't work well last year. My CSA Farmer Pam suggested using long sticks, even broomsticks for staking the plants. My husband (and partner in this endeavor, since this vegetable garden is in honor of our 30th wedding anniversary) volunteered to ride off to Home Depot to get stakes for the tomatoes.

Arriving home, my husband proceeded to show me the stakes. Of course, there was one less stake than we had tomato plants. No problem, I thought. I 'll just tie two plants together. It will be like two tomato plants doing a three-legged race.

My husband (a very strong man!) sledge-hammered the stakes into the ground. Suddenly, the stakes weren't that tall after all. Those plants were tiny. They'll do just fine, I thought.

It had been raining day after day. I don't think I remember an early summer with so much rain. MY CSA Farmer Pam wrote to me about having to change clothes three times in one day to harvest her crops due to the amount of rain and the mud. My tomato plants were not growing. We were at a battle of wills, it seemed.

Off my husband trots to his friend Frank, a landscaper no less, and returns home with fertilizer. "This should do the trick", my husband tell me. He had his friend's word. I believed both of them so I applied the fertilizer to the ground around the tomato plants.

Do you know the story of Jack and the Beanstalk? Well, then you know the end of my tale. The tomatoes grew, and grew, and grew. From somewhere I heard that I had to pinch out the suckers (those branches that grow between the central stem and side branches). I did that, not knowing I was causing my plants to gow even taller. You're wondering where the stakes were at this point, I'll bet. Well, if I were a tomato plant, the stakes would have reached up to my knees.

I decided that I would not allow the plants to get the better of me. One tomato plant that was taller than I was particularly annoyed me. I pinched off its top. There! That made me feel better. Armed with scissors and soft string, I decided to tie all of those gangly giants in place. Now there is string all over my tomato plants. They are gagged, bound, and going nowhere.

They continue to annoy me however. I see myriads of little tomatoes on my plants. They are all quite small and very green. The plants continue to produce small, green tomatoes. There are tons of them. Where are the plump red, delicious tomatoes I was expecting?

The fight goes on.

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