Tag Archives: tomato plants

I Almost Fell for It

If you have been following this blog for a few years, you know my travails with my tomato plants. And by plants I mean 2. My dear friends Becky and Susan raise tomato plants (and many others) lovingly from seed, carefully place a few in my hands, and before you can say “fresh tomato and basil” I’m sending them frantic pictures of their hapless babies, crawling with bugs or curling up and withering away. Usually accompanied by a text in all caps, “WHAT DO I DO????”

Last summer was a particularly spectacular failure. Right out of the gate the poor plant was swarmed with aphids, and I sprayed the hell out of it with soapy water, but it was too late. I got 2 tomatoes last year.

So this is my last summer at this apartment,  and I have increased the pot size (were the others too small?), stopped putting fertilizer  (have I used too much in the past?), and let it be. I’m a Zen gardener now, not attaching  to any particular outcome.

And the little struggling plant grew. And grew. Leaves unfurled effortlessly and soon yellow flowers burst forth in unbridled enthusiasm. I merely glanced and smiled serenely. Soon actual tomatoes swelled from the receding flowers, green ovals of promise. I even left the plant for three days,   while we went to college orientation, and lo, it rained.

Nearly 6 weeks in, all was well. I hadn’t made it this far before without a panicked text, or a sinking feeling.

And that’s where I made my misstep. I began desiring those green ovals, anticipating their ripe redness. I was actually going to do it this summer! Have more than a handful of tomatoes! And Buddha laughed.

This morning I went out to water my plant, and there they were. I don’t know what they are–mites, midges, bugs. To me they are the little white bastards, and the Zen gardening is over. Those little bastards picked the wrong plant to mess with. Oh, yeah, I sprayed the hell out of them this morning after I rubbed half of them off with my bare hands, like Scarlett O’Hara grubbing desperately in the dirt for food.

As god is my witness, I will have fresh tomatoes this summer. I will.

There’s Always Next Year

Like the Red Sox fans before the 2004 World Series win, every spring, my hope and optimism are reborn. This is the year I will have tomatoes before Labor Day and have more tomatoes than I can eat by myself. This is the year I will get to gaze at my gorgeous tomato plants with satisfaction and pride. This is the year I will finally beat those nasty bugs and critters laying in wait.

And as usual, shortly before Memorial Day I received my tomato plants, grown lovingly from seed, from my friends Becky and Susan. I was so proud:

tomato-before

My excitement was short-lived. Every single year, about three to four weeks in, something weird happens, and I have to send an emergency panic photo to Becky and Susan, with a plea for a diagnosis. This year it was these nasty little fellows: tomoato-aphids

In the past, I’ve had weirdly crinkled leaves, other types of bugs, something I dubbed butt rot. Let’s just say I keep Becky and Susan busy. This year it was aphids, which seemed easily solved with soapy spray. I followed the directions and in a few days the nasty things were gone. Yay! I was on track. And anyway, I usually am able to get a couple of handfuls of small tomatoes before havoc strikes.

A few weeks after that, I noticed the leaves at the bottom of one of the plants were getting yellow, but I didn’t pay much attention. In past years, when I was actually able to get a few handfuls of tomatoes before they were overcome with bugs, a virus, or my sheer inability to care properly for them, some leaves turn yellow. Some. It soon became clear, however, this plant was going belly up from bottom to top. I looked at the doomed yellow flowers and tried to stay hopeful. I still have another plant, after all.

Yeah, right. The other thing that happens every single year is that the plants all go together. There never seems to be a hardy survivor. And sure enough, when plant number 1 was about half-way dead, plant number 2 started its inevitable march to the big garden in the sky. I searched in vain for bugs, evidence of gnawing animals, stunted leaf growth. Nothing was wrong with them except, perhaps they realized that being in my care was going to mean their demise anyway, so I think they made a pact and took control of the situation.

They begrudgingly gave me five small tomatoes, threw themselves in each other’s arms and became this:

tomato-after

On the upside the basil is growing like crazy and seems impervious to me, bugs and critters. So at least I can make pesto.

So, dear delicate tomatoes, I bid you adieu. No judging, but I wish you could have been more like your sibling, Basil. Just you wait til next year.

 

Gardening: That’s a Wrap Folks

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:

photo (13)

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.