Monday, September 7, 2020

Tomatoes to the rescue


     How many years? Three. Four? Maybe five? So many that I was starting to feel stupid even planting them at all. Like some crazy man who every year dug out all the weeds and grass and crap from a 10 x 10 plot in the backyard, bought six or seven tomato plants at $4 or $5 a pop, then carefully planted them and caged them, and religiously watered them, knowing full well that the plants would grow, but would never grow tomatoes. Then in the fall, or winter, or early spring at the latest, I'd reverse the process, dig up all the miserable desiccated failures, return the twisted tomato cadges to their spot behind the garage for another few months, until it was time to repeat the process after Mother's Day.
     Year after year—and here's the sad, sick thing—I had given up the hope of growing tomatoes. I didn't plant a garden because I expected tomatoes. I just planted it because it was one of the nutsy futile time-wasting things I do, like writing books.
     OK, I exaggerate. There were tomatoes. Hard, green spheres that were even worse than nothing at all. The promise of a tomato. Then a long span of waiting. Then a stone mockery.
    Not this year. First the cherry tomatoes came in, a ruby red vanguard. They arrived in platoons. En masse. They were sliced into salads and popped, liquid sunshine, into my mouth standing in the garden. They're out there now. I can't eat them fast enough.
     But the cherry tomatoes were just the opening act. To my amazement, they were shoved off center stage by the Main Event. These big guys, the size of baseballs, and in quantity. It didn't even matter if the squirrels got a couple, because there are a lot more where they came from. We filled our arms with tomatoes and took them back to the house. My wife put them in salads with fresh mozzarella and basil—also grown in the garden—dribbled with fig vinegar. Tomatoes accompanying omelets, or just set out with fresh fruit as finger food. They are that good.
     I have a way of anthropomorphizing inanimate objects. I can pity a lost sock, picture it slouched on a wooden bench in bus station in Toledo, having slipped out of the dryer and set out searching for a truer mate.
     So it was easy to see these tomatoes, which are animate, in a low key vegetative way, as benign protective forces, these big red beasts, lumbering onto the scene, lending a hand. Heroes, arriving as they have in the weirdest summer ever. Deciding, in their tomato wisdom, to show up now.
     Well, I can't help but suspect that it was intentional .Maybe the tomatoes were withholding their forces. Waiting in reserve. Like reinforcements. Knowing how massively 2020 was going to suck, with its COVID-19 and economic entropy, its travel bans and our jabbering dupe of a president growing more unhinged by the hour, the looming November election giving off shrieking warnings of impending calamity, shrill sirens that rattle your teeth.
     Sure, the tomatoes would have added flavor and color to 2019. Or cheered up 2018. But would we have appreciated the way they're appreciated now? I think not. Fresh-picked tomatoes I grew myself are a lifeline in 2020, a reminder that not matter how we fuck up the world, with our carnival of cretinism politics and our shredded social fabric, our bottomless fear and outsized hatred, that we can't touch tomatoes. They come through in a pinch, in their own sweet time, sometimes when we need them most.


  1. The closest we can get to feeling like a God. Failures and all.....

  2. as a wise man once said,two things that money can't buy, true love and the taste of home grown tomatoes.

  3. Our figs are ripening , got 5 lbs of grapes , some type of long bean but can't grow tomatoes for lack of sun . Tried the roof one year but too much heat from the black surface. Couldn't haul enough water up there to keep them alive.

    I have two clients that trade me tomatoes for carpentry.

    Getting ready to move to 70th and Woodlawn. Will have an actual yard should be able to grow tomatoes next year.

    The wife wants goats, and chickens and bees.

  4. Love this. The photos, the hope, the connection to pure goodness still in the world.

  5. Congratulations on your tomato bounty!
    And are those WATERMELON RADISHES on the plate?!

  6. Can’t beat a fresh caprese salad!

  7. wow gorgeous! kudos for your dedication and great success! love the plate with fresh figs! those are the best! fig tree in your future?

  8. We don't have a garden. When friends and family members extol the glories of their summer vegetables -- the zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, etc. -- I primarily think "Eh, whatever." (And I like and eat lots of vegetables, FWIW.) But the tomatoes! Those are the gardening payoff that make me envious, seeing as how it's impossible to find a worthwhile tomato for so many months of the year.

    Particularly given the unrelenting weirdness and bad news that have characterized 2020, it was pleasant to see those cheery, red tomatoes atop the blog. You describe your satisfaction in greeting their arrival well, and they look fine, indeed.

  9. I admit to being somewhat mystified by your post. I've been growing tomatoes for about 40 years now, and while I've had (one or two) years when the yield was somewhat disappointing, I've always gotten tomatoes. I sure don't understand why you've had so many bad years. About all you need is halfway decent soil, some direct sun, and fertilizer (skip the Miracle stuff, use composted cow manure and bone meal).

    You don't have a walnut or butternut tree in the vicinity, do you? Those particular nut trees are known to not play well next to tomatoes.

    1. Several walnut trees, though they're quite a distance away. Perhaps the source of your mystification is what I call the "Other People Problem." That is, the fact that rather than being a template for all lives everywhere, your own experience is particular to you, and perhaps not the Rosetta Stone that explains everything. Just an idea...

  10. Neil, did you use a different source this year for your tomato plants? What type are they and where did you buy them? Nice photos!


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