Tending to a garden is quite a bit of work, especially when it comes to weeding and keeping your plants healthy. We had a rain shower one day, and I thought after the rain would be the perfect time to pull weeds. I took my milk crate out, sat in the midst of the tall tomato plants, and started pulling weeds, stopping every so often to take a sip of wine (I often times drink wine while I work in the garden — it enhances the experience, bringing out even more of the garden’s loveliness).
Carl sat outside of the garden walls — a wonderful new wrought iron fence we installed this year, with scroll work and leaves on the edges, talking to me while I weeded. Then the rain came back, and I did not care. The rain would simply help soften the soil and make my job easier, and while the neighbors watched and wondered why I was still out, I laughed and drank wine and weeded in the rain.
Absolutely one of my favorite days in the garden this season — carefree, surrounded by intense and intimate smells of earth, tomatoes, cilantro and rain. Could anything be better than that? I have found myself telling people through the years that by far one of my most treasured scents is when I have worked out in the garden, and my hands smell of tomato plants and fresh cilantro. That fragrance, that sensual warm fragrance. It’s heavenly to me.
A month, maybe 6 weeks later, we gathered again, and this time to savor the glory of heirloom tomatoes. We had planted, in 2009, the Ananas tomato, also known as the pineapple tomato. It had been such a favorite with us that we saved seeds, drying them out on a paper plate and storing them in a Ziploc bag all winter. I loosened them from the plate in Feb and planted them in little peat pots in a traditional type seed starter style.
Seedlings had come up, and eventually grew little leaves and grew fuzzy stalks, but when we planted everything else in the main plot the plants were still too measly to go outside, and I felt I had wasted my time. I did not throw the seedlings away, but found myself ignoring them in favor of the bigger, sturdier plants we had bought at our favorite nursery. I moved them outside in late June, a full 2 months after everything else had been in the garden plot, and did not have any confidence in them. They grew, but never produced flowers.
I was so distraught I spent hours online learning what no flowers meant, and learning about how I had actually tainted our garden the autumn before by adding too many leaves to the soil and not enough of everything else the area needed. I had to add phosphorous to make the pants flower — a problem not only my heirloom Ananas had, but my eggplant and my beefsteak maters had, too. I also, around this time, discovered why it is you should compost in a SEPERATE space and not in your garden proper — all the kitchen scraps I had thrown over the fence all winter long were sprouting up — an issue that resulted in over 50 extra baby tomato plants coming up (many of which I simply pulled and threw in the compost) and several avocado plants coming out of nowhere.
After adding phosphorous, I had flowers, but still no fruit. I spent a day in early August hand pollinating my plants — Ananas, beefsteak, and eggplant — hoping that corner of my garden, and months of work, would be rewarded. It was a long day, but I’d rather spend a long day outside in the sun, listening to the music of the bees, and hearing the birds sing, than most other things in the summer. I simply used my little paintbrush on every flower I could find, and kept my fingers crossed that it worked.
I went out, on a Saturday morning, 2 weeks later, to discover it had worked! My hand pollinating had paid off!! I had baby Ananas and baby beefsteaks coming in, and eggplants!!
And a new issue — yellowing of all my lower leaves and stems. My happiness was tempered with a new issue — and after discussions with my favorite sister Dawn who has gardened for years and works at Biblers gardens in northwestern Montana, I discovered I had an iron deficiency. Now my garden was just like me – anemic!! Great…….but I found what I needed at a terrific local garden shop (advice from a stellar staff of folks with excellent customer service — a total bonus to me) and I added liquid iron to my soil, mostly correcting the yellowing and final issues I had with my unbalanced soil.
Those heirloom Ananas — boy oh boy — they came in with gusto, in gorgeous yellows, with beautiful stripes of orange and settled patches of red on their blossom ends. I took hundreds of pictures of them — my pride was ridiculous at having made them bloom and helping them produce fruit, and now I could reap those rewards. Huge, 14 to 16 ounce tomatoes that change the way folks think about tomatoes. Carl and I were eating them for dinner with just a dash of salt and pepper on them — meals of tomatoes!! So a Thursday night was coming, and we invited our friends…..
Antal wanted to know, even before he came over, what was the name of the tomato we were about to eat. I could not remember. I simply told him it was gorgeous, firm, low acidity, a stripey yellow that has very little “traditional texture” and lots of meat. That is was our favorite. He said he’d bring a 12 pack of Oktoberfest. Brian said he did not eat tomatoes per se, but would bring desert, and could only stay a few hours a he had a friend to get at the airport. I picked up hardwood smoked Gouda, Wasa crackers, basil goat cheese, and sliced the tomatoes with glee. Brian actually showed up with a fatoush salad — a Mediterranean salad covered with fried bits of pita bread — and a container of baklava, and at 9pm on a Thursday in late September our food orgy started.
We drank Oktoberfest beers, 13 of them in the end, and a 4 pack of white russians, while we consumed plates of fresh tomatoes, cheese, fatoush salad, hummus, and hot peppers. Brian said the tomatoes were the best he’d ever had, and that he’d happily eat them anytime he could. We sat out back and watched the moon travel across the sky, until Jupiter was positioned directly under it. We laughed and made jokes and talked about life. A perfect night, a great gathering of friends and food and joy, occasioned by the fruits of home gardening, of organic gardening, of loving food and all it can be.
Earlier that day, I had been at an art museum in Detroit, the MOCAD, with my good friend Mark, and I had told him I was going to write a bit for a new blog, write about the garden. He said that was so appropriate for me. He knows how much I adore being outside, working in the garden, growing veggies, getting sun on my skin, smelling the scents of the plants. I told him that I realized the garden is simply an extension of what I do everyday in my life — I tend to my flock, I care for all my friends, nurture them, help them grow, help them produce, be strong, move forward.
Gardening is just more of an immediate result for me, a quicker result, a bit more intimate of an experience. Gardening to me is sensual, exotic, erotic. The smells, the tastes. The results of hard work. When you have your friends over, and enjoy them, and have a few drinks, and eat tomatoes that taste like nothing else on this earth, that give your palette a joy nothing else will — what can be better than that? For me, gardening is fulfilling. It is joy. It is a days work well done.