Grow Tomatoes

The author, a self-described "nongardening amateur," loves to grow tomatoes and explains how and why.

| June/July 1994

Let me say at the outset that my wife is the better gardener, qua gardener. Joy understands the magic interaction of soil, seeds, and sun. Her thumb is a bright cucumber green. But as a nongardening amateur, I read the literature to keep up with all the newest trends in home gardening. We have different approaches to it, that's all. Different ideas.

Joy stops weeding. "Let me get clear on this: You want to put some rusty junk in our flower garden?"

"It's the newest trend," I tell her. "The garden as art. Visual and tactile intermixing of artifacts with biogenic life." A garden should interest the eye and relax the soul. We've got wind chimes on that tree already, and there's a brass watering can, a new birdhouse, the tin scarecrow, our shrine in the corner, and my trusty double-wide hammock, all placed for art's sake. Now I'm thinking the flowers could use a spot of rustic accent, specifically the old trailer frame out back of the barn, its wire spokes proving that it used to be one of the first American cars. Noble in workmanship, original in statement, a mute testimony to the impermanence of the works of mankind compared to the annual gardens of earth; decades of weather have rusted the axle tree to a fine patina ....

However, the thought balloon above Joy's head shows a blemish of auto salvage in the middle of her pristine garden. "No way," she exclaims. "The basic idea's good, but let's find something smaller. If you like, we can put the trailer out in your tomato patch." I reel in shock and stagger back. What? Instant veto to that. My tomato patch is a scientific proving ground. No room for beauty there.

Art is an uphill battle. Being an artist herself, Joy defines the term along odd lines of personal choice when it comes to her garden, and I have to validate her artistic vision in these matters, or else sleep on the couch. Differences of opinion provide a healthy contrapuntal balance in a marriage. We differ more than somewhat in our choice of favorite garden vegetables, for instance. She says potatoes, I say tomatoes, she says asparagus, I still say tomatoes; in fact, I say the primary purpose of our garden should be to grow tomatoes, with all other vegetables subordinate to the light, space, and nutrient needs of this lovely, fecund plant.

Joy demurs. She opines that onions, spinach, potatoes, garlic, dill, squash, pumpkins, peas, beans, eggplant, spinach, corn, melons, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, and about seventy kinds of spinach are equally important to a balanced diet and garden. But I suspect that the source of her boredom with tomatoes is based on their simplicity of cultivation. She freely admits that tomatoes are no challenge to grow in just about any climate, if one selects the right variety and follows basic rules of cultivation. Furthermore, she says, tomatoes produce in such abundance that other veggies wind up in the rear of the canning lineup or the top of the freezer at harvest time. (Like turnips? Like spinach? Good.) It's easy to grow great tomatoes, Joy insists, and not just big green ones, either. Looking right at me, she swears anyone can raise better fruits than the pale, pinkish, insipid, bouncy baseballs sold in the supermarket.

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