Sunday, April 10, 2005

Put a Tomato on My Coat of Arms

I planted my tomato plants today.

I think the only years I haven't planted tomatoes in the 30 years Bernie and I have been married were the first three, when we lived in apartments, and in 1986, because we knew that we would be moving before fruit would ripen. Tomatoes are an altogether agreeable crop to me. I love the taste of tomatoes right off the vine, hot in the summer sun; I like them in salads, I like them topped with melted mozzarella cheese, I can bliss out eating them in great juicy sandwiches with mayonnaise, so sloppy they must be eaten over the sink. What the genius Tomato does to the combination of bacon and lettuce is sublime. Great slabs of a sliced huge tomato with salt can evoke in me a fervent utterance of grace in thankfulness to God the Creator of Tomatoes.

The smell of the vines is also pleasing to me. As each plant begins to bloom, I tickle the modest little yellow flowers one after another to encourage pollination. My shins and ankles shimmer with faint green as I step carefully among the vines, snipping suckers (unproductive sprouts) with my fingernails (which also turn green). Brushing foliage aside, I sprinkle a little epsom salts onto the ground at the base of the plant and till it into the soil -- tomatoes love epsom salts.

My mother used to start her tomatoes in February in her greenhouse; she frequently grew a lovely patio tomato called "Pixie." Those were the only tomatoes I grew for many years -- the fruit was smallish, only about 3 inches across, but they fruited early on those greenhouse started stalks and I usually had ripe tomatoes by the first week of June, small tomatoes with a big tomato taste. I started my own tomatoes from seed last year, choosing to be experimental and try the varieties "Bush Big Boy" and "Fourth of July". The first was supposed to grow a determinate vine -- that is, it gets so big and no bigger; the second was supposed to produce very early small fruits.

Live and learn. "Bush Big Boy" produced about 5 tomatoes per plant the whole season; "Fourth of July" turned out to be (and taste) like slightly oversized mushy cherry tomatoes that just didn't produce much. What tomatoes we got were mostly off a neglected Roma tomato that I shoved into the ground at the last minute between the landscape shrubs. Back to basics this year, I bought four "Better Boy" plants, and a little sixpack of "Mamma Mia" (which is supposed to be just like Roma ... we'll see) and if I can ever find some Romas, I'll tuck them in somewhere.

After last year's dearth of tomatoes, I'm ready to plant a forest of them, and get the hives from eating too many.

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