Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The saga of Miss Tasha's tomatoes

No, not THOSE tomatoes – we’re talking here about the actual ones, garden-grown and delectable. You see, there is my LBT (Life Before Tomatoes), and LAT (duh). LBT – those were the halcyon days, where spring was just spring (rather than designated a "good tomato spring" or a "bad tomato spring"), tomatoes were red, and I got my plants every year from my dad, who tinkered around and grew them from seed, trying some wacky varieties even though I always insisted on the standard Big Boy. Then my dad passed away, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t have to figure out how to grow out the seeds he left behind.

Thus did the madness begin.

Of course, being the research maven that I am, I discovered an entire world of heirloom tomatoes – and that first year, I grew 160 or so different varieties from seed. Year 2, I believe I culled it down to about 150, which was tough.

The problem has never been with the growing – in spite of a lack of space, I’m capable of growing beautiful, healthy seedlings, lush and lovely. The problem is, well, let’s take a look:

Year 1 – My mom had put the house in Northbrook up for sale, so this’ll be the last gardening we’ll do here. I plant many many tomato plants – and the fucking chipmunks eat every….single…….tomato. Yes, every one. I try everything – from dog hair to dried blood to cages to putting little pantyhose socks around each tomato. Then I find tomatoes half gnawed on that have been toted across the yard still ensconced in their little stockings.

Thus does my hatred of common rodents masquerading as adorable creatures begin.

Year 2 – I have so many plants and not enough space in my own tiny backyard, so I do an epic planting at the community garden by my mom’s in Huntley. This is the first year for the community garden, and to prepare this space, they’ve scraped all the good farmland soil off the top, and have replaced it with…..something else. Supposedly soil and compost, that seems to have come directly from Yosh’s House of Toxic Mulch. Every plant turns a sickly shade of purple/brown, and grows no higher than 6 inches.

Year 3 – This is the one good tomato year. Obviously a fluke.

Years 4-5 – The streak of truly bad luck begins. First, whenever I take my seedlings outside to harden off, the monsoon rains and wind start almost immediately. Every. Time. It would be like a bad joke if it weren’t so infuriating. Nevertheless, I’m determined, and keep planting hundreds of tomato plants out by my mom’s. To no avail. They’ve given up on the toxic mulch, but it’s all rock-hard clay there, so the bad weather that hits in May means that the plants sit in pools of cold water because there’s no drainage. Most of them die.

Year 6 – The Cancer Summer. Which started off well enough as far as the tomatoes were concerned – but then that pesky bike crash in mid-August, aka peak tomato season, meant that I was in LaLa Land as far as harvesting anything. I do vaguely recall picking a lot from my back yard and giving them away to random people on the street. Yes, I was that out of it.

Year 7 – 2008, or The Year That Shall Not Be Mentioned. Not only one of the coldest years on record, such that I didn’t get a lot of things planted out until June – but what really killed me and almost made me give it all up was the month of August. When I went out to my new plot in Skokie and saw that there were tons of green tomatoes. And this was good. Figured – okay, so I’ll have late tomatoes that won’t taste super-great, because it’s not hot enough, but at least there’ll be something to show for all my hard work.

Then the rains came. Rain that flooded the underpasses and yards and rivers. And the next time I went out to the garden, it was to be greeted by nothing but split, cracked, rotten tomatoes. Even the ones that had been green, that normally aren’t affected by rain, they too were split and rotten.

So that brings us to now, Year 8. Where I had the brilliant idea that after years of growing and giving away literally thousands of plants, and spending thousands of dollars on the endeavor, that hey, maybe I could sell some seedlings and recoup some of that money! Pay some medical bills! Sock away some money to pay for my Alps trip! Keep Kona in pig ears!

The gods heard that and laughed, obviously, because this is what has befallen my seedlings so far:

Took a few trays outside in April to start the hardening off process – also known as the “manner by which perfect seedlings turn to crap” - back when it was nice and balmy, then went off to CA. Freeze hits, decimates many of the seedlings. In the meantime, my brother Andrew has the most gorgeous tomato plants I’ve ever seen in my life, and is rolling in tomatoes every year. Figures.

Took second batch outside last week – immediately the winds picked up, hit 55 mph. More seedling death. If you’re wondering why I don’t wait to take them outside, as they do say to look for a calm but warm yet overcast day with no rain, well, if I waited for that day to come along I’d be taking the plants outside on a lone day in August. For about half an hour.

Besides, I’m a firm believer in the tough love approach. No coddling. Shape up or ship out. Culling of the herd. Hence putting the seedlings in juvie, the equivalent of the Audy Home, where they quickly learn it’s survival of the fittest. Oh, I’ve tried the method of toting the seedlings in and out, in and out, with every storm or crap weather front that comes along. In Chicago that means that carrying seedlings around was a full-time job. Andrew has followed my methodology and keeps the plants in Guantanamo – it obviously works for him, as they are indeed “scared straight” and produce beautifully.

The next night, the monsoon rains hit, with it pouring so hard it sounded like a freight train outside my window. The next morning, I go outside and gingerly tiptoe up to the seedlings to see if they survived - yay, they did, they look fine, whee, KONAAAAAAAAA NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

Kona has decided to channel his inner show pony and goes leaping over the barricades I set up to – yes – land smack dab in the middle of SeedlingLand. Total and utter carnage.

The point of all this lead-up is to note the following:

Miss Tasha’s Seedling Sale is Here!!!!!

Yes, after all that, I do have a lot of seedlings left (thus far), and while I no longer hope to do anything other than recoup some of my seedling-growing costs, hope springs eternal for that at least. The survivors are sturdy as hell, beautiful and lush. Are they ready for planting? Hell yes, they’re ready for pretty much anything. Monster truck rallies, cattle drives, you name it, they could be your stand-in.

So if you’re in the Chicagoland area and are looking for organically grown, lush and tall, heirloom variety tomato plants – let me know ( I have about 50 varieties, and I’m selling the plants for $4.50 each, or 5 for $20. Which I think isn’t bad, considering that Home Depot is selling Big Boys and other hybrids for $3.50 each. But that’s my opinion.

And if you also know of any, say, nursing homes for example in the Chicagoland area that might like some tomato plants for their gardens, please let me know that too. I’m always trying to donate leftover plants to some worthy folks, and can never find a place like that that wants them. Okay, so I have a soft spot for the old folks, so sue me.

And if you do want any seedlings, act fast – with Kona as my gardening “helper,” I’m not quite sure how long they’ll last……

1 comment:

Caroline said...

Me! Me! I want some tomatoes!