Friday, April 20, 2012

MY ACCIDENTAL GARDEN

The other day I wandered outside, in the front yard, where I hardly ever go. There is a raised brick flower bed next to the house. Something there caught my eye:

TOMATO PLANTS!
WITH TOMATOES ON THEM!
(Those are artificial flowers on the right.)
This was truly a transcendental experience, for I had wanted to plant tomatoes for this first spring back in Texas. But, like many other best-laid plans, they never materialized.

Should I plant heirlooms or hybrids? Where? Anywhere in the back yard, the dogs would destroy them. Maybe in the side yard, which is fenced off, but just the thought of working that black clay gumbo soil into something resembling beds was exhausting. In the meantime, the window for germination passed. I was resigned to spending the next year in more planning and research, and making trips to Whole Foods  and farmers markets to buy heirloom tomatoes raised by someone else.

On that glorious day there were tomatoes in my very own front flower bed, having germinated and now flourishing with no intervention on my part. I was deliriously happy. The scene immediately evoked childhood memories of plucking a perfect tomato off the vine and eating it right then and there, with the sweet juice dribbling down my chin.

Close-Up of the First Tomatoes

These tomatoes must have been some accident, leftover from the previous tenant, dormant for a whole year and surviving the drought. A wet spring brought them to life. And, ironically, they are probably an heirloom variety because hybrids won't grow from the previous generation's dropped fruit.

Regarding these unexpected tomatoes as a Gift from God, I proceeded to hover over them like a mother hen. Several trips to Home Depot produced bamboo stakes (because metal tomato cages are incredibly expensive), MiracleGro fertilizer, more MiracleGro garden soil to amend the native gumbo, a few Homestead heirloom plants, and one Big Boy for making sandwiches on fresh white bread with mayonnaise, the closest thing to heaven on earth.  While I was at it, I picked up a few strawberry plants for this sunny location.  I had probably spent more money on these unexpected tomatoes than I would have in buying them ready-to-eat.

The tomatoes have been thriving, and are now at least doubled in size after two weeks. I've done extensive research on the web and have judiciously pinched off sucker branches so the plants will have more energy for making the fruit. New blossoms have appeared.  All seemed well.

But with the luxuriant growth have come new challenges:  bugs. I'm determined to keep this garden pesticide-free.  This morning I found these critters:

Ack!  Something's eating my tomatoes!


 A quick search on Google Images of "tomato bugs" revealed that these are juvenile leaf-backs. I found the mamma bug lounging on another tomato.

Panic set in - what to do? Obviously this city-slicker is emotionally fragile when it comes to raising food.

After giving the matter much thought, I went back outside, picked up most of them with a tissue and squashed them. As much as I respect life, I wanted tomatoes more.

A few of the babies escaped. The survivors had returned to the same spot an hour later. This time I spritzed them with a pyrethrin spray left over from the previous tenants. So much for organic gardening. But pyrethrins are "natural" - made by chrysanthemums and marigolds (which I never got around to planting either).

I harvested two of the bigger tomatoes and immediately washed them off with dilute liquid detergent, then made fried green tomatoes for supper. Their tartness was a perfect complement to the sweetness of the canned vegetarian beans and veggie-franks. Or maybe that tartness was from the residual pyrethrins. Whatever.

My favorite merlot rounded off the meal.

Ahh, life is good.

Stay tuned for the ongoing Battle of the Bugs. Yes, I WILL have that perfectly-ripe tomato sandwich!

After dinner, I went out back with the dogs. A mockingbird was serenading the sunset with its limitless song.

In these days of endless wars and meaningless political rhetoric, it is so satisfying to find so much pleasure in such simple things.

Yes. This is where I belong.

And tomorrow I'll buy those marigolds.

-bjd