Thursday, March 5, 2015

The One Vegetable Plant that Hates Me. by Christy Nealon

Tomatoes. The joke of the house. Why can I grow things no one else can; but, tomatoes elude me? I think it is one of God’s little jokes. Each year I buy an established hearty tomato plant. I buy organic soil. I use a water meter. I set it out to bathe in the warm summer sun and bring it in to protect it from the chilly summer nights. As it grows, I lovingly provide a new home (pot) for it’s roots to expand and absorb the nourishment needed to produce those elusive flowers that yield that red delicious sweet fruit.

Each year my “supportive” husband snorts as I purchase this plant. He sighs as he helps tote it back and forth, in and out.  He winks as I proudly display the two small greenish red tomatoes. He pats me on the back as fall arrives and I groan while putting the summer vegetable containers away knowing that elusive tomato plant has beat me again.

I ponder on what could have gone wrong. Was the variety the wrong type for here? At 9000’ I don’t think that there is a preferred variety. Did it get too hot, too much sun?  My lettuce will wilt if left in the full sun all day at this altitude. Did it get too dry or too wet? Certain container materials will either keep a plant too wet or absorb too much of the moisture away from the plant. Was it not protected enough from the wind? These questions have plagued me over the years of my attempts. This year, I think, I have the answers. I over cared for a plant that did not love me back.

This summer, a member of the Columbine Garden Club in Idaho Springs was handing out cherry tomato seedlings. You know I was NOT going to put any more money out on a plant that refused to love me back. Thus, I figured I’d take this seedling, plant it in whatever soil I had laying around and just let it go. I got this newly transplanted delicate little seedling home and left it in its Solo red cup for over a week. I watered it at my leisure. I planted it when it was convenient in an over-sized plastic pot. I left it outside. We had a late frost and it was left out all night. Some of the leaves had “frostbite” and fell off. I brought it in and set it by the slider door. The temperatures vary there from the glass and the door constantly opening and closing. Summer rolled on; in and out went the plant for better or for worst. As it started its need to climb, I put in a support post. It was nothing fancy, just an old broken wire sign holder that looks like a H. I set that plant out on the deck next to the heat absorbed siding of the house to create a mini micro climate and provide a bit of wind protection. I left it to minimum care. That plant was going to have to show me some love before I made much more effort.

As my “ supportive” husband commented that this was just to be another love hate romance year with the ever elusive tomato. Lo and behold, this rogue plant from the Solo red cup started to yield not just those yellow flowers but small hard green fruit. That fruit took hold and grew into sweet cherry tomatoes throughout the summer. As the season started to come to close, Trixie the tomato plant (if she lasted this long, she gets a name), continued to produce clumps of 4 to 5 tomatoes at a time. It was time to start loving Trixie back.

Trixie was brought inside and given prime winter window location.  A wire trellis made from 4 gage wire fencing was installed into the pot. The various “legs” of Trixie were delicately woven into the wire for better support. Trixie could now stretch out with ease. She was put on a regular water schedule. Trixie the Tomato Plant was living life large, literally.  I have been careful not to hoover and Trixie just keeps showing the love. It’s now February and I still have fresh tomatoes every couple of weeks. I wonder how long this plant will keep producing in this environment? We’ll have to wait and see.

Lesson learned: You can smother a plant to death with “love.”

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tina,
    I'm a Jeffco MG and you had a master gardener table at a Produce & Health Fair I did a couple years ago. I love your story and I am so happy you finally found a tomato that loves you! Nancy O'Brien