Archive for Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Beal: Tomato crop fuels great expectations

April 28, 2010

I guess it was like Samuel Johnson said of a second marriage: the triumph of hope over experience.

Ignoring the definition of insanity as the propensity to repeat behavior while expecting different results, a couple of weeks ago I purchased some tomato plants and installed them in two of those hanging tomato planters that came out a few years ago.

These planters had been moldering under the deck for a couple of seasons, after I threw them there in disgust after they failed to produce more than a handful of scrawny tomatoes the first time.

What can I say? I guess the desire for a good, home-grown tomato got to me.

I like them in salads or in a sandwich with bacon, lettuce and mayonnaise. Or, sometimes, just the tomato by itself, with just a little salt or maybe a sprinkling of vinaigrette.

Much has been written about the pleasures and joys of home-grown tomatoes. Remember the Guy Clark song?

“Home-grown tomatoes, home-grown tomatoes,

“what’d life be without home-grown tomatoes?”

“Only two things that money can’t buy,

“that’s true love and home-grown tomatoes.”

Last year we picked up what seemed to be a pretty healthy tomato plant in a two-gallon planter and tended it assiduously for the season, but it yielded only a few tomatoes – none of them of any size to speak of.

So, despite past evidence to the contrary, I have convinced myself that the hanging planters still offers us the best chance of reaching our tomato goals. I think my lack of success a few years ago stemmed from failure to feed the plants enough. So, rest assured, these plants will not go unnourished. I may burn the leaves off, but they’ll be fed plenty and often.

Now, of course, I’m watching the weather like a hawk. Tonight’s forecast calls for the mercury to dip below 40°F, so I’ll have to cover the plants somehow. This is a little more complicated in that the plants are at the bottom of the hanging planter, after all. But, where there’s a will there’s a way. I think I can take a big trash bag and cover the whole apparatus, tying it off at the top. We’ll see.

Not to change the subject, but I refuse to join the debate about whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable. I know that, as far as scientists are concerned, the tomato is a fruit. After all, it is developed from the ovary in the base of the flower, and contains the seeds of the plant. Unlike scientists, cooks may consider the tomato a vegetable because it’s more often used in savory, rather than sweet, dishes. But that “debate,” if that’s what it is, is just so much pettifoggery. Who cares? Just let me have the tomatoes.

Meanwhile, I watch those plants. Every day, sometimes even more than once a day, I go out onto the deck and inspect them. I descend into the yard and look at the plants close-up. So far, so good. I am, so far, content in my hope.

But I feel a chill. There’s something else the good Dr. Johnson said about hope:

“Hope is itself a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords; but, like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain; and expectations improperly indulged must end in disappointment.”

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