I am growing tomatoes.
I’ve never tried before, because as I look out over the yard that my father used to farm, I don’t know where to begin. He would put in a hundred tomato plants, which seemed like a reasonable number to him. The rest of the garden was full of peppers, beans, garlic, onions, raspberries, beets and cucumbers, and I swear it is memories of endless pickling and canning and freezing that have made me avoid gardening. Success terrifies me, though I used to make good money from a stand I set up selling my father’s produce to the neighbours.
This year I had the whole place dug up for new grass seed, and decided at the last minute to cut out a tiny patch for vegetables. I like plants the same way I like men: independently healthy. At the garden centre I glanced at the tiny tomato seedlings, and decided I’d better get a dozen. Every other choice was random, because the beauty of not knowing what you’re doing is not knowing if you’re doing it wrong.
I carefully plugged in all the little plants. The next morning, all the beans were gone. The morning after that, the cucumbers were missing. The onions had fallen over and showed no signs of perking up and resuming their journey to maturity. My sister, Roz, asked what I’d planted. I told her I had peppers and tomatoes left. And a honeydew melon plant. I was actually leery of this, and had only bought it because it seemed very healthy. It was the biggest thing I bought.
“That honeydew is going to all over,” said Roz. “Give it a ton of room – it’ll take over the entire yard if you let it.” I looked out the window at the lonely little sprout of a plant, and decided she was exaggerating. In any event, everything I’d planted close to it was gone anyway, so it had elbow room.
In the mean time, it rained in perfect intervals and was sunny the rest of the time. I ignored my garden, and it flourished under my negligence. The tomatoes got fuller and fuller, and I rummaged around in the shed for something to stake them with. Ari, 18, came out in time to see me banging in some posts I’d found using the back of a shovel. He glanced at the worn out citronella torches I’d used on three of the plants.
“You’re doing it wrong,” he said, and went back in the house.
The posts wouldn’t go down very far, so I took some string and kind of tied them all together at the top. After one of those fierce thunderstorms we had, I went out to see my stakes all askew. I retied them, and then anchored the whole mess to the deck with more string. Ari went out to start the barbecue one night, looked at my tomato stake macramé and raised his eyebrows. He said nothing.
I picked three peppers from one plant and Ari and I marveled at the how fabulous it was to have a garden. I checked on the other 5 pepper plants, and found not a single pepper. Something had eaten them.
I have tomatoes that are channeling my father’s ghost; the plants are laden with promise. I have two hot pepper plants left, as apparently my critters have delicate palates. I have a honeydew plant that has indeed taken over half the yard.
And there is no way I’m going to let Ari sell any of it.