Friday, November 9, 2018

Tomatoes


I spent much of my formative years on a working farm.  It was there I learned the basics of raising various crops for food—or so I thought.  It seemed easy when my grandfathers or uncles were in charge of things.  They always knew just what to do when things changed.  And things were always changing.  Rain, wind, hot sun, high humidity, bugs, big bugs, birds, rodents, etc., were always a problem to face.  I just didn’t realize how big the problems were until I planted a few tomatoes last spring.

It seemed easy enough.  I had three frames for shallow raised beds laid out on the ground where the sun would reach them about 8 to 9 hours each day.  I filled them with quality soil and amendments, and covered them with weed cloth and mulch.  I cut holes into the surface and planted eight tomato plants, two tomatillos, and eight pepper plants.  I gave them a good soaking, and sat down to admire my garden of four-inch high green twigs.  After a couple of hours I went into the house.

The following morning I rushed out to check on my new garden.  (Actually I got dressed first, had breakfast, worked on my computer, and did a few other things before I remembered the garden.)  My tomato plants were already a full inch taller than the day before, but the pepper plants were exactly the same.  I was disappointed.  I expected to have tomatoes and peppers by now.  Oh, well. 

It was about two weeks later before I realized the pepper plants were not showing much improvement.  Certainly they were bigger and had more leaves, but the leaves were wrinkled and had holes in them.  I also noticed the tomato plants were showing some leaf stress.  What do I do now?  My grandfathers and uncles are long ago gone from this earth, so I turned to the internet.  Oh Good Grief!!

First I addressed the leaf stress in the tomatoes.  According to the internet the causes were not enough water, too much water, not watering often enough, watering too often, too much sun, not enough sun, too much wind, not enough wind, humidity too high, humidity too low, white flies, lady bugs, honey bees, aphids, birds, squirrels, and noise from having a freeway within five miles.  So I decided to look up the pepper problems.

Apparently (according to the internet) my peppers were stunted from a lack of calcium, they had wrinkled leaves from a lack of calcium, but they had holes in them from too much calcium.  It was time to cry.  When I had regained my composure, I thought a trip to a nearby reputable nursery was in order.

I left the nursery with a car full of amendments and fertilizers, an empty wallet, and a stunned look on my face.  But I did what I was told, and in a few days all of the plants began to show signs of improvement, and after about nine weeks I had tomatoes and peppers forming.  I also had more bugs than I thought possible.  I think an entomologist would have a field day identifying new species in my garden.  I believe there are at least four.  Maybe more.

What was I thinking when I reached back to my farmer days and decided to plant a small garden?  I know I was remembering the taste of vine-ripened tomatoes picked and eaten out of hand in the field.  I know I was remembering the times I picked fresh jalapenos for breakfast.  I seemed to have forgotten the volume of work it takes to bring a crop to the table.  I also forgot that I wasn’t the one making all the decisions necessary to raise a successful crop.  And I forgot about the insects.

Well, a hot spell cooked the tomatoes and peppers.  When the tomatoes and peppers are charred on the vine, it’s just too hot to continue, but the few that ripened were worth all the trouble.  There is no substitute for ripe tomatoes and peppers right off the vine.  Next year I’ll try again, but this time I’m adding some corn to the planters.  I may not be a good farmer, but I can’t deny my roots.

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