April 23, 2011
Perhaps I can blame Pam Turner’s articles on tomatoes the last two Sundays, over at her End of Empire News blog, (http://endofempirenews.blogspot.com/2011/04/sunday-gardening-news-tomatoes-april-10.html, http://endofempirenews.blogspot.com/2011/04/sunday-gardening-news-tomatoes-pt-2.html) but I’ve dreamed of tomatoes for the last week. The tomatoes of my dreams were not growing in the garden, were not sliced or diced or cooked or being eaten. They simply existed, in all their ribald, red beauty, against the black ether of my dreamscape as I awoke each morning.
“How unremarkable,” you might say. But it is remarkable, for me. In all my seventy years, I’ve never dreamed about a vegetable, that I can recall. I usually reserve my dreams for people, things or situations that cause me anxiety. It’s always been my way of working through those anxieties and I’ve never thought of tomatoes (or any vegetable, for that matter) as anxiety producers – at least, until last year. I suppose that’s really the shameful crux of the matter, for last year – for the first time in my gardening life – my tomatoes produced poorly and I have no idea why. The leaves didn’t wilt or spot or turn yellow. The vines remained stout and green. But the fruit grew to golf ball size and simply refused to ripen. A handful of the late plum and cherry tomatoes I took into the house did ripen, but the rest gradually rotted and had to be thrown away.
The year my squash plants rotted at ground level from too much early rain and died without producing, I didn’t dream of squash. And when my peas do poorly, which is most of the time, (although this year’s planting looks promising, so far,) I feel no deep anxiety, nor do I dream of peas. So why do I now dream of tomatoes?
I suspect it goes back to my roots. I come from sturdy Ozark and Okie stock for whom no summer meal is complete without – and every meal is made gourmet with – a platter of fresh, sliced, home-grown tomatoes, a people for whom no trip through the summer garden is finished before snagging a ripe tomato and eating it on the spot and the very idea of a garden without tomatoes is heresy.
Low in sodium, with only a miniscule amount of fat, tomatoes are rich in potassium and magnesium, supply goodly amounts of phosphorous, copper, manganese and vitamins E, A, C and K as well as thiamin, niacin, folate and vitamin B6. Descended from a plant with small green fruits in the Peruvian highlands, the tomato in one size, shape and color or another has been cultivated and used around the world over the centuries. Though none of this probably matters to the tomato lover.
For me, tomatoes make a house a home. Last summer, I became homeless for the year. I had no sliced Arkansas Travelers and creamed cheese on dark rye bread for summer breakfast, no bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches for lunch. No tart Riesentraube Cherries tempted me to snackery as I roamed the garden, nor did they nestle in an old cup on my desk to nibble on as I worked at my computer. No diced Russian Prince Black Plums graced my winter soups and casseroles or formed – with carrots, celery and onions- the rich, fat-dotted gravy in which I cooked my roast beef and then, thickened to spoon over the mashed potatoes. My winter freezer, filled with squash, corn, carrots, asparagus, green beans, spinach, peppers, celery and onions, nevertheless seemed barren. The utter lack of tomatoes from my garden reduced me to the penury of canned and store-bought tomatoes of unknown origin to survive. Even the basil and thyme that grew in my south window seemed to sense the loss, though they, as I, did their best with what they had.
Life is difficult for most of us, these days. I’m fully prepared to do without new clothes, to wear my old garden shoes with the rip that threatens to separate the shoe top from the sole, for one more year and to make do with my old, slow computer that stalls and sputters too frequently. I am not, however, prepared to go another year without my homegrown tomatoes.
So, I hover over the dozen transplants in their peat pots, worrying that I have not given them enough water – or, perhaps, too much. I wonder if they get enough sunlight in the south window and whether the west wind is too cool or too strong when I take them out to the porch for the day to harden their stems.
We have probably had our last frost for the season, but because we are up on a huge plateau, the nighttime soil temperatures will not be constantly warm enough to transplant them to the garden for another three weeks or so. In the meantime, I have collected a baggie of crushed eggshells to drizzle in to the hole before I place them into it. I have checked to see that I have an ample supply of the dolomite-laced fertilizer they love and am preparing a new place in the garden, in case the setting from last year contains some loathsome bug or fungus that attacked them unbeknownst to me. Once they are up and running in the garden, I will rake the grass clippings into a mulch to keep the soil around them moist through the drier summer. And, I will wait. For that first, fully ripened fruit that tells me I will not be homeless next winter.
Until then, there is little I can do, I suppose, but allay my anxiety by dreaming of tomatoes.
P.S. For Norton Anti-virus users who also enjoy reading over at the Canadian Doomer site, due to a glitch, you may see a notice from Norton. She is NOT running a phishing site. She has contacted Norton and the situation will be remedied by them, but it may take a few days. Just so you know.