Somebody out there stop me! It’s early summer and I’m severely tempted to go out and plant tomatoes, which would be okay except for one tiny little problem. I can’t grow tomatoes. Oh, I try. Believe me I try. But it never ends well and the ordeal leaves me depressed for months.
It’s just not fair. Everybody else can do it. All over town I see tomato vines casually spilling out of crumbling clay pots and climbing willy-nilly up old swing set frames. I even see them (and this really hurts) thriving in muddy plastic sawed-off milk cartons in the window of the nearby preschool. So if a three-year-old can grow tomatoes, why can’t I?
It’s not as if I’m totally incompetent. I can play both parts of "Chopsticks” at the same time and I can recite all the planets in order, so clearly I don’t suffer from lack of ability – except when it comes to growing tomatoes.
You may be puzzled by my obsessive, fanatic, irrational, neurotic fixation on growing tomatoes, but before you write me off as some kind of a loon, let me just ask one simple question: Have you ever tasted a homegrown tomato? If your answer is no, I say you’re the loon. If your answer is yes, then you probably understand why I keep trying...and trying…and trying.
Every year I go through the same ritual, starting with a trip to the local nursery, where I lurk around the hydrangea bushes until some old farmer wearing overalls and a cap with a feed store logo saunters by. He’s always more than happy to tell me which variety he prefers, as well as offering his surefire tips on how to grow them. He makes it sound so simple that I leave the nursery fully convinced that this is my year for a bumper crop!
Unfortunately, what works for Old MacDonald never seems to work for me. First he says to buy plants in groups of two, so they can cross-pollinate. (The two I pick out are never compatible, and file for divorce within a week.) Next I’m supposed to thump the blooms, so they’ll turn into fruit. So I thump the blooms. And they fall off. Then I’m advised to mulch in coffee grounds with the soil – presumably to keep the tomatoes awake at night.
From year to year I get conflicting advice regarding where to plant. I’ve been told to plant in morning sun with afternoon shade, in afternoon sun with morning shade, and in full sun, which is impossible, given where I live, unless I dig a hole out in the middle of the street.
Of course not all suggestions come from old-timers with straw hanging out of their teeth. I found this next tip in the pages of a reputable gardening catalog: "To prevent pesky birds from devouring your tomatoes”, it said, "hang small red Christmas ornaments from the branches. After pecking unsuccessfully at the hard plastic balls, the birds will leave the real fruit untouched.” So I actually hung ornaments all over my plants (and believe me, Christmas decorations aren’t easy to find in June.) All it did was to put the birds in a festive mood. I could swear I heard two mockingbirds singing "O Tannenbaum” while they devoured every ripe tomato on the vine.
One time I fell for an ad on TV where you plant your tomatoes upside down. I’ll never do that again. I almost passed out! Too much blood rushed to my head, I guess.
You’d think in the face of such adversity I would just give up. Let’s face it; the price tag alone should be enough to make me throw in the trowel. Here’s what I spent on my tomato-growing effort last year: Four large clay pots @ $18 each; four tomato plants "on special” for $3.50 apiece; twelve dollars for potting soil and tomato food; fourteen dollars for insect sprays; eight dollars worth of plant stakes and metal frames; another five bucks for soil enhancers (I already had the coffee grounds); and four dollars for Christmas ornaments. The grand total? $129!
The worst part is I only harvested six scrawny little tomatoes. They ended up costing me $21.50 apiece. No matter how you slice it, that’s a pretty crummy return on my investment. And yet here I am, threatening to go through the whole expensive disaster-doomed ordeal again this year – unless, of course, somebody stops me.
Good luck with that. After all, have you ever tasted a homegrown tomato?