Grape Tomatoes

We stopped by the in-law’s house the other night and as we were about to take our leave Duane’s mom looked at us wistfully and said “Would you kids like some tomatoes? Please…” I stopped her before she dropped to her knees to beg.

I sometimes feel sorry for people who plant tomatoes every year. They sit quietly in their homes day after day during the winter, involuntary shut-ins counting the minutes until the spring thaw. Then, just when they’ve almost given up hope, there comes a magic day in late January when the mailman delivers the first of many seed catalogs.

They pour over the images of fat red tomato fruit (for tomatoes are indeed a fruit) and gasp at the memory of long hot days and cool nights, of fruits bursting with juices, cold crunchy lettuces, crisp flavorful veggies. The memory of the summer’s bounty is powerful and it haunts them.

Soon they develop a constant neck ache from long hours hunched over an ever growing stack of catalogs, marking the pages with the most enticing new varieties and old favorites, sketching and re-sketching the new season’s garden with an eye toward growth habits and sun requirements. Vibrant green foliage, plump, ripe fruits, brilliant flowers drenched in yellow, red, pink, purple, orange… all of the colors of the rainbow and more make love to their eyes from the glossy bright pages.

They balance the checkbook, balance it again a different way, double-check their figures, and then decide that they can wait just one more season to re-shingle the roof. And hey, if it leaks, they can catch the drips with that shiny new pail that was featured on page 28 just below the Ultimate Growing System and the Garden Kit. (FREE shipping through St. Valentine’s Day!)

The checks are written and signed (with only the slightest clenching of the teeth), folded into business-reply envelopes with their matching orders, stamps are applied, and they are delivered directly to the local post office.

A short wait and the seeds arrive along with the shiny new pail and the Ultimate Growing System ($5-off with any order of $200 or more!). Trays of seed pots are lined up, natural light bulbs are hung above the table, the seeds are planted, watered, cooed over, and cared for better than most newborn children. A nip here, a clip there, weak specimens culled, strong speciments nudged close beneath the grow lights, and soon it’s time for them to graduate to the cold frame out by the shed. Spring is imminent.

A few weeks in the cold frame to harden the stock and wait for the ground to warm just a degree or two more, then it’s into the soil with them all. Nurturing takes on an art form in the garden where air temperatures, sunlight, wet, and vermin are more difficult to control. Bug spray is applied, fences are shored up, sonic vermin repeller thingys are strung along the fence top, and funky looking plastic predators are impaled on poles and stuck into the ground at random intervals. Ahhh, summer.

After what seems like forever the tomatoes begin to blossom, then fruit, then ripen, one by one. The first 8 or 10 are welcomed, hoarded even, but once they pick the 20th fruit they begin to get the creepy feeling that they’re not going to be able to eat all of these fruits themselves.

They give them away to family, friends, neighbors, coworkers. Eventually even their social circle has had enough, and they’re forced to leave baskets of ripened beefsteaks on neighbor’s front steps in the dead of night.

It’s impossible to just throw away something that you’ve put so much time and effort into. Better to resort to reverse-burglary to get rid of them.

But when January comes back around it all starts over again.