Tuesday, September 6, 2011

No Fresh Tomatoes

Although my husband and I live in a house, we do not have a backyard.  We have a backAREA that’s basically a pool (awesome!) and a lot of concrete (less than awesome).  We call it the backyard, though, because “backarea” sounds stupid.

I love gardening, and someday, I would like to have a vegetable garden with zucchini, pumpkins, carrots and tomatoes.  (And yes, I know tomatoes are really a fruit.  And no, I’m not going to call it a fruit and vegetable garden.  I want a vegetable garden with tomatoes, end of discussion). 

Right now, my vegetable garden is just a dream, because our large expanse of concrete is not exactly a gardener’s paradise.  But last summer, I convinced myself that I could grow tomatoes in our backyard.   I would be a legend: the Tomato Lady of Pasadena.  Foodies would travel from all corners of the globe just to visit my tomato stand at the farmer’s market.  Mark Bittman would want to be my friend.  I optimistically started my tomato garden.

It was an unmitigated disaster.

As you probably know, tomatoes do not grow well in concrete.  I actually did a science experiment about this in the seventh grade.  For the experiment, I planted seeds in four different materials: dirt, fancy schmancy potting soil, sand, and pebbles.  I charted the growth of the seeds every day.  It was supposed to be very scientific, but I felt bad for the pebble plant.  I could see that a seed had managed to sprout, and I might have rearranged the pebbles to help the seedling grow.   I might have lied about the results of the experiment.  (Sorry, Miss Taylor).  There's a reason I majored in history, not biology.  Anyway, I digress.  The point is that tomatoes need soil – not concrete – in order to thrive. 

Determined to grow tomatoes, I bought several books about container gardening and read everything about tomatoes.  I learned several things.  Lesson One: tomatoes need a lot of sunshine.  Okay!  My backyard has plenty of sunshine.  No problem. 

Lesson Two: tomatoes should be grown in plastic pots; terracotta and ceramic containers get too hot and will cook the roots of a tomato plant.  Cooked roots = bad, so I bought three deep containers made from plastic at Home Depot.  At least, I assume they were made from plastic.  Maybe they were made from something fancy, like fiberglass or biodegradable stardust.  I also bought some snazzy tomato-trellis thingees.

I visited several different nurseries in Pasadena in order to purchase the best tomato seedlings possible (as if I know what the best tomato seedling actually is).  I gently transplanted my seedlings and carefully positioned the tomato-trellis thingees.  I watered my plants religiously and did everything I was supposed to do.  My plants grew several feet high; the leaves spread out widely in the sunlight; and little baby tomatoes sprouted.  Victory!

Alas, Pasadena gets HOT during the summer.  Not East Coast/Midwest hot, but temperatures regularly climb into the high 80s and 90s.  And the concrete in our backyard?  It gets hotter than the surface of the sun.  Tomatoes do not grow well on the surface of the sun, and they did not grow well in my backyard.  My tomato plants died – slowly, dramatically, and painfully.  Little tomatoes would appear, with promises of sunshine and summer (have you ever eaten a tomato, fresh off the vine and still warm from the sun?  It tastes like heaven).  As I was picking recipes for my tomato harvest, the baby tomatoes would shrivel and die on the vine.  It was an emotional roller coaster.  Just when I was ready to accept defeat, the plants would rally.  Yes!  I would rejoice.  Tomato-palooza!  But again and again, the tomatoes turned brown and fell to the ground.  Between May and September, I harvested maybe four cherry tomatoes.

The four cherry tomatoes were delicious.  That said, I’m not an idiot.  This year, I moved the containers to a shaded area and planted some cheap flowers. I’m not dedicating my summer to some high-maintenance plants just so I can enjoy four cherry tomatoes. 

No comments:

Post a Comment