Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tomato Farming

My grand tomato fiasco started in the produce section Harris-Teeter. It was like a scene from “The Godfather”… you know, the one where Vito Corleone buys fruit from a sidewalk vendor before Virgil Solotzo’s men plug him. I was strolling along, bag in the left hand, fondling ripe tomatoes. After careful scrutiny, I selected four specimens and headed for the checkout.

The sign had said “organic” so I figured they wouldn’t glow in the dark or poison my liver. I was expecting to pay ...maybe a buck or two. But SEVEN DOLLARS! “I’m HIT, Fredo I'm HIT!”

Hey, it’s not like I am a frequent shopper, or anything, but how can four tomatoes cost SEVEN DOLLARS? It was then that I got the bright idea to grow my own. How hard could it be? Right? Dig a hole. Stick in the plant. Cover it with dirt. Wait for it to give birth to ripe red tomatoes just like out of grandma’s garden. When I was a kid, my grandmother had a vegetable garden which produced beautiful, sweet tomatoes. Not like the thick-skinned tasteless balls they sell in the super market.

The home and garden section of Lowes wanted $17.00 each for something called “Beefsteak Tomato” plants I asked the guy how many tomatoes each plant would produce in a season. He said 40 or so. I did the math. Not a bad deal! So I bought two of the plants and set to work. I got the shovel off the tool rack in the garage and looked around for a suitable spot. “Plenty of sun and good soil,” he had said.

I found what looked like a good spot, right beside the driveway. I brushed aside the pine straw and crunched the shovel down into the dirt with my foot. The spade was hitting something. A root probably. I put all my weight on the next thrust. The shovel resisted at first and then then I felt the blade slice through the obstruction. It was then that I noticed that I had cut through the main trunk of the phone line. Egad! So THAT’S what them meant by “please call before you dig.”

I discovered when I called them on my cell phone that ATT does not take kindly to such things. When I explained what I had done I endured a scolding a lady who I imagine looked like the "church lady" from Saturday Night Live. Yes, they would come out and repair it. Yes, the cost of the repair would be included in my next bill. No, they couldn’t fix it today. When I explained that I needed my phone for business there was a pause. “I guess you should have thought about that before you tried to dig your hole,” she said.

“ Yes, maam,” I said, sheepishly. “What’s the earliest you can send someone out?”

“Five work days,” was the reply. There was no negotiating with her.

Chastened, I went back to my plants, this time trying the other side of the driveway. After an hour or so I had my two plants properly in the ground. Now to sit back and watch them produce a bumper crop of red, ripe tomatoes.

I checked every day for two weeks and FINALLY! Little green buds! I could see them in my mind. Growing bigger and bigger until finally the day would come when I would have a bush laden with tomatoes the size of softballs. How easy it would be to go pluck them and slice them up. Hah! I was liberated! No longer a victim of super market tomato fraud!

The first little guy came along in about a week. I watched him turn from green to light orange… then light red. He was the first of a litter of five. Four more little guys were following close behind. But when he turned fully red he wasn’t the size of a softball. Nor even a baseball! More like a golf ball! No matter, I told myself. He is probably a “preemie”. “Tomorrow,” I thought. “Tomorrow I will pick him, wash him, and slice into his plump little body.

The second disappointment came when I plucked him from the vine. To my horror, the entire bottom, which had been hidden from view, was a moldy mess! Had it been gnawed by a squirrel? Foiled by some fungus? Was I watering too much? I remained hopeful for his little brothers, however, who now numbered seven. I had all confidence they would ripen normally... but it was not to be. They were all buggered up with holes and spots and rot.

Disgusted, I declared my career as a tomato farmer officially over. I uprooted what remained of my “garden” and tossed the scraggly vines into a heap for the garbage truck. All that remained were three little fellows, still green. At least some hope remained.

I learned that once you pick a green tomato, they don't get any bigger. I put the little trio in the sun where they could ripen, protected by the screened-in porch where blight, the rabbits, or whatever couldn't eat a hole in them. One just started turning orange. He is the largest of the lot. About the size of a hen egg. I am waiting. When he ripens I intend to celebrate with a half BLT sandwich, which I figure will have cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 bucks.