How does your garden and tomatoes grow?

Almost 50 years ago, I tried vegetable gardening. I was a new homeowner and reasoned, that’s what homeowners do – we grow crops, right?

After years of apartment living, we were thrilled to finally have a mortgage, and literally put down roots. With great anticipation, I planted great gobs of vegetables. The yellow squash was tough as leather, and the zucchini was round. The carrots were two inches wide and three inches long with foot-long root strings. Corn? Not one ear. My little patch of “farm to table” was such a colossal flop that I haven’t ventured a packet of cucumber seeds or a six-pack of pepper plants since. I know my limits.

And back then, I didn’t even try tomatoes. The advice I received was “Full sun and lottsa water. LOTS.” Knowing I would be working out-of-town two days a week, I couldn’t risk them not being watered. Tomatoes were off the table.

So I bought only idiot-proof plants. After that guarantee produced misshapen, punky inedibles, I decided I wasn’t cut out for produce production. Since then, I have stuck to flowers with modest success despite the ravages of rotten rabbits and chomping chipmunks.

In late May, I was at the garden club’s plant sale picking up a few last-minute goodies. I really enjoyed the “shop talk” amidst the wide variety of plants the members had grown from seed, or dug up, or divided. I gathered a few types of marigolds, some lamb’s ears, and a bit of ivy. And then I spotted them.

The few tomato plants were only five or six inches high but looked super healthy. As I stood thinking about my previous veggie disasters, I thought, Hey, a lot of years have passed since that fiasco. Why not try again?

Just one. That’s all I considered. And I knew that I would grow my first honest-to-God tomato plant in a big pot on the deck. Considering the size of the damage from my backyard munching menagerie, I wasn’t about to let this little experiment out of my sight.

I brought the baby plant home with no idea of what kind of tomatoes it would produce.

I didn’t care. It was $1.50 and if it produced two tomatoes I was ahead of the game. If they turned out to be big – like a beefsteak – I’d win if only one showed up. I planted it in a 12-inch pot, and drowned it. Like true gardeners say, I “mudded it in.” I fertilized it for the first time a few days later.

Please understand that this is truly exciting for me. I’m just a flower gardener and this has been a summerlong adventure. The little – now big – tomato has become the pet of the deck.

Because the deck’s pots of colorful blossoms are just a few steps outside, they are easy to water and fluff for their best appearance. My coddled tomato plant has a special full-sun location all by itself towards the end of the deck. It’s the first plant watered every day and those 90+ degree days dictated morning and evening deep soaks. And I know he listens to me. (I named him Tom – short for tomato.) I coo flirty little phrases and flatter him every day, because his response is so positive.

Within a few weeks in its big pot, Tom’s little yellow flower buds appeared. And despite a few waterings that were a bit late, most of them formed baby tomatoes. All thoughts that these were cherry or grape tomatoes went out the window when they quickly grew into green tennis balls. The first one to ripen fully was four inches across!

And now, suddenly, those tomatoes are coming fast. The fist-sized ones will star in BLTs this week during family visits – one huge slice per sangwitch. Tonight a few will be poached, skinned and dressed with a garlic-lemon-basil vinaigrette. These babies are the sweetest tomatoes I have ever eaten, and now I’ve got the bug.

Next year, little Tom is not going to be an only child. The deck has room for twins or maybe even triplets. But that’s all. I know first-hand what too many plants looks like.

Years after my mother was widowed, she still grew tomatoes in vast quantities – 25 to 35 plants. Seriously. Then she complained that nobody came. “I tell everyone to stop by for tomatoes and cucumbers. They prefer that I deliver them. These are free – what’s wrong with people? Eventually she got the picture and only planted a dozen plants … for herself.

I have never canned, and it’s too late to start something that ambitious. Besides,

I don’t do anything by the bushel. I’m too bushed to bushel. Two or three Toms is the most I can handle. Like I said about the corn and cukes, I know my limits.

No more than two BLTs.

Marcy O’Brien can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com.


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