Every spring my gardening friends give me two or three tomato plants that they raise from seed for my little patio container garden. I usually supplement it with a few sunflowers, a basil plant and a bean or a pepper plant. The upside to this mini garden is that I do get some edible things out of it, and theoretically such a petit garden should be fairly easy to take care of. You’d think. But more often than not some blight or bug or just plain bad watering on my part often gets to my plants shortly after I’ve harvested the first few fruits of my labor. I can’t even call myself a hobbyist gardener. I’m more a city person who likes to sit outside in the summer and look at a few green plants. Of course that means when they go to that big garden in the sky before their time, I’m back in the grocery store staring at those tasteless pathetic excuses for a tomato and cursing.
I will take responsibility for the unsteady watering last year, which resulted in what I dubbed as butt rot. Note exhibit A:
I am not taking the hit for the blight and bugs, though–that’s nature’s doing. And the last several years, I’ve watched in horror as all three or four plants have gone from small green promises to brown, spotted, bug-infested heartbreakers.
However, my optimism is more difficult to kill than tomato plants, so this spring I decided to start over with all new pots and soil, just in case the blight and bugs imprints were still on the old pots. And as usual, everything started out swimmingly. The two tomato plants and the sunflower looked happy and the basil plant converted into a fragrant bush in short order. But then I went on vacation for three days and had no one to water them. When I got back, the one tomato plant was turning brown. But it was hopelessly entangled in the other plant, a purple cherry tomato, which had flowers all over it. The sunflowers and basil were gasping, so I kept watering them all and soldiered on bravely.
It turned out to be a great summer for tomatoes—sunny and hot. I waited ALL summer for the green tomatoes on the second, thriving plant to ripen. I’m not sure why, but every year while real gardeners are pressing their gratuitously annoying tomato bounty on everyone in the middle of July, I’m getting one tomato a week until the end of August. Then when the weather turns cooler, all the tomatoes start turning red, but the plant knows summer is done and just throws up its leaves and keels over, and I’m looking up fried green tomato recipes on the internet.
The same thing happened this year— I was staring at green tomatoes for six weeks willing them to ripen. Then I realized with dismay that my second, longer vacation at the beginning of September was going to collide with the long-awaited ripening. I had only gotten about five tomatoes until that point. All the rest of the 30 were crying out in the their faint purple skins and begging me not to leave them. I acknowledged my shortcomings as a gardener, and admit that I may very well be a urban plant murderess. I picked a few more half-purple ones that could finish ripening in the house and went on vacation, hoping the weather app showing five days of blazing sun was wrong.
When I got back, the patio “garden” was a sorry, browning drooping mass. There were maybe eight more tomatoes that had ripened during the plant’s demise, which I picked. But it looked like that would be the end of it. Still, in my crazy optimism I thought it couldn’t hurt to try to water it again—the branches weren’t that brown and dry. So I watered and watered until, just like a cheesy children’s story, within a few days most of the plant rallied and the cherry tomatoes were back on track (see Exhibit B at the top of the post). So far I’ve gotten about 15 tomatoes and there are probably 20 more on the way. The next week in Boston will be averaging 80 degrees, so maybe I’m counting my tomatoes before they turn purple, but I think I’ll have enough for a few salads. Heck, I might even have to give some away.
And then I’ll sit on my patio with a sweatshirt and watch the naturally dying tomato plant and dream of next spring. I think I might be getting the hang of this.