Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tomato dreams

Did I ever mention I have a passion for tomatoes? Far too long now I've settled for the sallow, flavorless flesh of storebought fruits, except for those rare and precious occasions when a friend with a garden shares. During one of our last summers in Bellevue, I experimented with container gardening but had a difficult time finding a spot near our apartment with enough continuous sunlight. Some neighbor kids stole the few good tomatoes I grew. After that I just gave up.

In 2006, our first full summer in Ellensburg, I had high hopes for a modest garden in our spacious backyard. I planted four tomato plants, a row each of broccoli, cauliflower and peas, a small herb garden and a half-dozen strawberry plants. Unfortunately, I soon discovered the elm trees shaded most of our yard and few parts of it had continuous sun for the entire day. Good for staying cool, but not so good for my poor garden, which produced a few small, sickly looking tomatoes (still much tastier than anything from the supermarket) and a scant cup full of peas. The broccoli and cauliflower never produced. Even worse, the one sunny spot where I had planted the herb garden and strawberries was overrun with ants, which devoured most of the berries and ate holes in my basil.

After my initial failure, I reevaluated and hatched a plan for rearranging the sunny bed with the strawberries and herbs to make room for some tomato plants. When summer 2007 came, though, I was far too busy growing a baby to worry about my garden. Which brings us to this year.

A few months ago I made a big batch of fresh pico de gallo to go with tortilla chips for a girls' game night I was hosting. For someone who claimed (until very recently) to hate cilantro, Jim went crazy about it. Ever since, he's been saying we need to grow some tomatoes so he can make fresh salsa. Really good fresh salsa. So once again I reassessed what went wrong in our garden in 2006 to see what viable options we had. Then what appeared to be a great opportunity presented itself: Jim's dad offered to give us a few rows in their garden, which has full sun exposure all day. We got really excited and purchased a half-flat of eight tomato starts of different varieties, as well as some onion, chive, basil, rosemary and dill starts. I also grabbed some seed packets for cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini and watermelon (Jimmy's particular request).

This is a busy week for me, but I set aside Wednesday to go to my in-laws and do all the planting. The weather here this week has been sunny but breezy, in the upper 50s and lower 60s most days. It was windy but fair, so after lunch I bundled the kids, plants and my gardening gear in the car and we headed over to Grandpa Jim and Grandma Gail's. They live up in the north end of town where the wind comes whipping down the valley from the mountains. As soon as I opened the car, my baseball hat blew off my head, and Audrey's blanket kept blowing away. My father-in-law showed us to the garden and pointed out the rows we could use. The wind was blowing hard and steady and I realized our rows had no shelter from constant gusting. Just in carrying my plants out to the plot, I saw how the wind beat them and started to wither the once-plump green leaves. I felt bad about it at first, but I really didn't want to waste the money and time I was going to invest, so I quickly re-thought where I could plant at home. Jim and Gail didn't take it personally; Gail had lost some of her cucumbers, just planted a few days ago, and already blasted by the wind.

So I packed everything back up, headed home, and dug up some empty laundry detergent tubs stacked in the basement. I didn't have as many tubs as tomato starts, so I weeded out my old herb garden and planted some between the sage and where the strawberry plants were already thriving. The tubs, once filled with soil, a tomato start and a cage, are still light enough for me to move around to keep them in the sun most of the day. At first I thought, what a pain to have move around the containers... for all of five seconds. Then I started thinking about running out to my garden on a summer evening, picking some greens and vegetables, making a big fresh salad for dinner, and biting into one of my own tender, succulent red tomatoes. I'm going to water, rotate, research homemade ant repellants, and pray, pray, pray for good tomatoes.

It will be worth it.

1 comment:

Motherhood for Dummies said...

I am growing some tomatoes right now... and jalepenos, peppers, strawberries, and blackberries. ummmmmm.... black berries :)