Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

A Year in the Life of Tomatoes

Posted on | December 10, 2009 | No Comments

December–This is the month for flipping through seed catalogs and choosing from incredible tomato varieties like Green Zebra and Cherokee Purple.  No store bought tomato plants for me.  The neighbors will be in awe and the children filled with wonder by our unique and amazing tomatoes.  Imagine the sweet, juicy taste of a tomato, fresh off the vine.  Ordering on the phone just isn’t fast enough so I must risk identity theft, spam, and a double order by using Paypal.  Never press the back button while order is processing!

January–Now I must collect egg shells, newspapers, and toilet paper rolls for homemade seed pots.  Jiffy pots are for suckers and amateurs.  Digging through the garbage is easy, economical, and only a little bit messy.  Now to find a place to set 4 dozen egg shells to dry out …

February–The seeds are here and started in their homemade, biodegradable pots.  This is exciting but just a bit inconvenient since we now only have 2 feet of counter space left in the kitchen that isn’t covered with seed trays.  And no one can use the guest bathroom either.  Or the work bench in the garage.  Or the mud room.  And you have to move seed trays off the washer and dryer when you change loads.  Hmmm……  I hope I planted enough.

March–Time to toss all the seed trays into the compost bin.  Some didn’t germinate (obviously my children’s fault for constantly knocking over trays and spilling the dirt out), some got white moldy fluff (my husband’s fault for moving trays out of the sunlight just to have space to put his shoes on in the mornings), some got leggy, flopped over, and died (because God hates me).  Go to the local home improvement store and buy standard tomatoes like everyone else.

April–Tomato plants are in the garden and covered with simple greenhouses constructed of 2 liter soda bottles (good thing I saved all that garbage) and hay bales supporting plastic sheeting.  I will have the first tomatoes of the season.  This simple and effective method for promoting early growth only requires someone to cover the plants before a frost and uncover them before the heat of the afternoon sun.  Spend many days rushing home from morning errands to uncover plants and most evenings arguing with husband over whose turn it is to go out in the cold and cover them.  This will be worth it!

May–The plants are blossoming and the first green tomatoes are hiding in the foliage.  Soon we are blessed with 5 ripe cherry tomatoes to split among the six of us.  By the end of the month we make a quick trip to the beach and ask the neighbor to watch our pets in exchange for any tomatoes she gathers off of our plants.  When we return she regales us with tales of the delicious salad they had, filled with the 6 tomatoes from our garden and 3 from hers.  Happy, happy, joy, joy!

June–Oh, the wondrous tomato.  We eat them grilled, salted, stuffed, dipped in ranch, sliced with a piece of cheese, in salads, on burgers, and mixed with cucumbers in vinegar dressing.  I make fresh salsa, gazpacho, and bruschetta.  But there is nothing better than sweet taste of a tomato sandwich, slathered with mayo, and sprinkled with salt.  I am victorious and the proud mother of happy, healthy children who pop cherry tomatoes right off the vines into their mouths.   Tomato suckers are pruned and replanted to make fresh plants to extend the harvest.  Oh, is there no end to the gifts of the tomato plant?!

July–As our bounty overflows we become the choosiest of tomato pickers.  Only the best for us.  Anything speckled or soft or even splashed with dirt will be tossed to the grateful chickens and ducks.  I explore the exotic entries in the tomato cookbook–tomato ginger jam, tomato gravy, tomato and peanut butter sauce.   The farm fridge is filled with produce, but the beautiful tomatoes sell first and sell out quickly.  If I were the type of farmer that did crazy things like keep receipts and record costs I would say that the sale of tomatoes has covered the expense of everything else we planted in the garden.  What the hell, I’ll say it anyway.

August–The canning begins……and it never ends.  Counters are covered with mason jars,  there is always water simmering in the canner, and the tomato sauce stains will never come off the stove top.  By the time one day’s harvest is cooked and stored, the plants produce another bushel.  The children are begging to eat beets and turnips in lieu of tomatoes.  Even the chickens sneer at the tomato cores and skins left in their scraps bucket.  Under cover of darkness, I sneak down to the garden and stomp out the vigorous little plants that resulted from the tomato suckers and are blossoming in preparation for producing a whole new crop of tomatoes.

September–I start getting inventive.  Tomato slices into the dehydrator for our own sun dried tomatoes.  Tomatoes popped whole into the freezer for later use in soups and stews.  Dig out recipes for tomato preserves and tomato relish.  Hoping for a quick Labor Day weekend excursion, I offer our neighbor the tomatoes from our garden in return for pet sitting.  She stands at the fence in her own garden, wearing a sauce- stained apron, and scowls at me over her canning pot.  “How about $10 a day instead?”  Apparently, she is blessed with a bumper crop, too.  Sigh.

October–Now we are even getting turned away from the local food pantry.  “Honey, we just can’t take more than a bushel a day.”  I beg.  I weep over my canner.  I decide the tomato plants should be trimmed to maintain their health and hack at them viciously with the tree pruners.  Who would have thought this resulted in a new flush of growth and the ripening of lots of green tomatoes that the heavy, bushy, branches were shielding from the sun?! Aaaaaaaggghhhhhh! Apparently, tomatoes are a gift that never, ever stops giving.

November– I won’t even look at the garden as we pass it on the driveway.  I ignore the glints of red among the foliage.  The garden gate is left open to encourage looting.  I am holding on, waiting, praying for a heavy frost.  The tomatoes, left to ripen, rot, and slide onto the ground have the nerve to self sow and produce even more plants.  When my husband suggests ways to use the green tomatoes before winter sets in, he is met with stony silence.  And finally, finally, it happens.  Soon after Thanksgiving, the temperature drops and we awake to a garden tipped with hoarfrost.  By afternoon the plants are brown and crippled.  It is done.  Rest in Peace.

December–Oh, what I wouldn’t give for the taste of a fresh garden tomato.  Where are those catalogs?

© Stevie Taylor 2010. All Rights Reserved.

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