07 October 2013

At long last! Tomatoes from my garden

I think it’s been about 25 years since I successfully grew tomatoes in my garden. I used to have great success with tomatoes as well as zucchini, snap peas, string beans, even one year Brussels sprouts. And roses, too. I grew beautiful roses.

That was in our first house in Minneapolis on Vincent Ave. I had a great garden then. I think that’s at least partially why my son has become an enthusiastic gardener. It reminds him of his childhood when he would go down to the garden and pick fresh vegetables. Now his kids do the same thing.

(A short anecdote: I also had a lot of success growing peppers, especially jalapenos. Our neighbor to the south was a very nice man, I suppose about the age of my parents. He was nice but a bit of a curmudgeon. In one of the houses abutting our backyard was a nice young family, just a little older than us. One of their kids was a bit of a rascal; nothing really bad, just noisy and rambunctious. One day the curmudgeon slyly picked a jalapeno and gave it to the rascal, innocently encouraging him to take a bite. Of course the boy went yowling home. Just a little bit of neighborly revenge in Linden Hills.)

We lived in that house for 10 years, but eventually outgrew it and moved to Edina. Our first house in Edina had a great yard. But for some reason, it was impossible to get a garden started. Nothing got well established. Not tomatoes, not roses, not even peppers. (In retrospect, I think I should have excavated a patch of grass and brought in some good garden soil. Instead, I tried to make due with what I had.)

After 9 years there, we moved again to another house in Edina, where I still live. This house has also has a great yard, but it’d heavily wooded. There’s so much shade that it’s been nearly impossible to grow vegetables. Year after year I’d buy a flat of tomato plants. Year after year, we’d harvest one or two tomatoes per plant. Sometimes we wouldn’t even get that much. My wife and I sadly lamented our $3 tomatoes. Finally I gave up.

I accepted the fact that I needed to treat my yard like a shade garden. So I put in a lot of hostas and other shade-loving perennials. In a very small plot that got a decent amount of direct sun, I planted various herbs and pepper plants. Peppers, by the way, have thrived in my garden. Especially jalapenos.

My son, as I’ve mentioned, is an avid gardener. He even starts his own tomatoes (and other plants) from seed in his basement while there’s still snow on the ground. This spring, he said that he had a few extra tomato plants and some Serrano peppers. He asked if I wanted some.

The peppers were easy. But I was reluctant to take the tomatoes. Even with free plants, did I want to risk the humiliation of a crop failure? I had a couple of trees removed and hoped that would increase the amount of light in my small patch. Against my better judgment, I agreed to take four plants. Tomatoes2013

Well hallelujah! I don’t know if it was getting rid of the trees or if the basement-started plants were more productive or if the weather this year was just right. But for whatever reason, I had decent tomatoes. All four plants grew and thrived and bore fruit – not just a few shrunken consolation prizes, but real, delectable, juicy ripe tomatoes. We’ve eaten them all either on their own or as part of salads. For my various recipes that call for fresh tomatoes (pizza, ratatouille, tomato jam, oven roasted tomatoes), I still used ones that I bought at the Minneapolis Farmers Market.

Now, as autumn makes its inexorable journey, I’m still harvesting ripe tomatoes from my plants. And most of the plants are heavy with green tomatoes. I’m planning to leave them on the vine until the threat of frost. Then I’ll harvest the green ones and hope that they ripen.

I hope that my son has a few extra plants again next spring.

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