So it was that mid-April, enchanted by seed-packet pictures of Godzilla-sized vines burdened by tomatoes like ornaments on the White House Christmas tree, my wife bought tomato plants, their appearance at stores here a trusty harbinger of spring, along with shorts and tank-top clad half-marathon runners shivering in the early-morning frost. The plants sat on our front porch day after day like sinners stuck in purgatory, or orphaned Russian children not sure if they really wanted to be adopted in the promised land. We were leaving town for three weeks in late April – to plant or not to plant, that was the question.
Lulled by low temperatures comfortably above freezing, and trusting to the Lord – we are God’s Chosen People are we not? – we planted. When we returned, all was dead. It was heartbreaking – right up there with foot-high cheat grass concealing what is often said to be a lawn and AWOL goldfish in our pond, victims of a heron happily stealing candy from a baby. So much for trust in the Lord.
But hope and stupidity rise eternal in the human heart. I gassed up my 6 HP Toro, which advertises a smiling petite woman in high heels holding a margarita in one hand while effortlessly guiding the beast with the other, and I tilled everything under. Again. We bought replacement plants, found a roll of weed screen, and again we look like we know what we’re doing, little green statuettes anchored in black composted islands in a sea of plowed brown dirt, weeds temporarily held at bay like barbarians at the gate. All that’s left now is to pull and mourn future sick plants and fend off bugs and deer. If we’re actually successful at growing, we’re sure to be unsuccessful at giving away surplus tomatoes to our friends, who will no doubt be besieged by other friends trying to do the same, when all they wanted for dinner was a mushroom burger and French fries, so that our garden will be littered with dead tomatoes like victims of a Mongol invasion.
I have a faded bumper sticker on my car that predates the Iraq invasion that reads, “At least the war on the environment is going well.” Our garden seems so environmentally correct – sustainable, family-farm agriculture, mother-and-apple-pie stuff. But I’m scared to compute its total energy life cycle cost, because it reminds me of Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward to build steel furnaces in every backyard, which resulted in widespread famine.
Two or three dollars a pound for grocery store tomatoes looks pretty amazing.