Posted Online: March 06, 2013, 11:17 am
Rethink the tomatoes, please
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By Frank Mullen III
During these depths of winter, the sensible gardener reviews last year's successes and failures, recalls abundances and shortages, and plans the coming season's crops accordingly.
If you ever meet a sensible gardener, please give me a call -- I'd like to know what one looks like. All the gardeners I know plan their gardens according to a line of reasoning that is long on forgetfulness and short on common sense.
"Let's see," this thinking begins. "Last year, I grew too many tomatoes. Everybody did. You couldn't give the surplus away. In fact, the county passed an ordinance making it a misdemeanor to carry more than two tomatoes onto someone else's property. Aha! I know: This year I'll grow tomatoes!"
This seems like a good idea in March. "I'll just toss a few seeds in the backyard," you think, "sprinkle some fertilizer and whistle 'Dixie' until the crop comes in."
But in July, you will be in your backyard, watering the garden with your tears as you tally up the true cost of seedlings, potting soil, fertilizer, gardening stakes, deer repellent, sunburn and heat stroke.
Still, tomatoes grow well in the Midwest, and a crop will usually be a success. If you like tomatoes, that is. If you don't like tomatoes, it's not a success; it's an infestation.
You freeze what you can't eat, but this only prolongs the agony.
In January, you'll open the freezer looking for frozen peas, and 16 rock-hard tomatoes will fall out and roll around on the floor like billiard balls.
Tomatoes are not on my list of favorite foods. Unless a tomato is in a ketchup bottle or on a pizza, I don't particularly want to have a relationship with it. I, however, do not make unilateral gardening decisions in my household.
Determinations are made by the Joint Committee on Vegetables. It meets while I am in the shower and announces its decisions while I'm pulling an undershirt over my head and cannot propose amendments.
I'm not against vegetables in general. For instance, I believe everything tastes better with garlic on it. My wife has become an expert producer of this crop. We've got so many braids of garlic hanging on doors and walls that our house looks the meeting hall for the Anti-Vampire League.
But I believe tomatoes should be used only for the purpose they were invented for: to hurl at incompetent performers.
During the summer, I keep a basket of Cherokee Reds in the front closet in case any singer/songwriters show up at my doorstep.
The only thing I hate more than tomatoes is singer/songwriters.
The boys all sound like Bob Dylan with a head cold and the girls all warble like your 5-year-old niece singing to her dolls, and they all write songs with the depth of a package of Kleenex Hand Wipes. I've never yet actually had to fire in self-defense; the word has obviously gotten around, and the singer/songwriters have been staying out of my neighborhood.
Let's plan now to prevent a glut of tomatoes next summer. All we need is a website at which gardeners can describe what vegetables they'll grow, identify which they'd like to acquire in trade, and set up a meeting place for the exchange. A dating site for vegetables, if you will.
This would cut down on the number of tomatoes rotting on Midwestern windowsills at the end of summer.
By mid-September, the tomatoes in my house are so soft and squishy I wouldn't even throw them at Sheryl Crow.
Frank Mullen III of Aledo is a former Navy band leader.