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How Does Our Garden Grow?

How Does Our Garden Grow?

Feeding the strawberries

Feeding the strawberries

It is with eager anticipation that we plant our garden each year, holding out hope that, despite the rock hard caliche under our depleted soil, despite the limitations of a container garden, despite the desert sun, valley wind, and unreliable sprinkler system, despite the fact that all odds are stacked against us and we haven’t a lick of gardening sense between us, somehow, in some way we will feed ourselves from our own meager plantings. We have never come remotely close to realizing this hope, yet we foolishly blunder forward!

Our successes have been rare, but the sweet memory of them drives us onward. We had a meager feast of strawberry shortcake one evening several years ago, having tenderly picked each puny berry from our plants. Another year we harvested an impressive handful of hot peppers. Two zucchini about the size of my husband’s thumb were the prize of two years past. Last year we grew a watermelon with a remarkable diameter of two inches; it was too cute to eat. A spattering of home-grown herbs have enhanced our eating throughout our gardening attempts. Over the course of ten years, we have successfully managed to grow enough food to sustain a family of eight for fifteen minutes.

Drying herbs

Drying herbs

Most of the dismal failures I take in stride, a skill gained from years of experience perfecting the art of falling flat on my face. Nevertheless, I have never been able to accept the fact that we cannot grow our own tomatoes. Every year we try, and every year we fail. This year we tried again. Call it what you will; I am labeling it perseverance!

Walking through the local nursery in search of tomato plants carries with it a sense of morbidity. We stare down each plant, seeking out our next victims. This year we set our sights on a Big Boy and an Early Girl. Had those two innocents known their inevitable fate, I’m certain they would have hidden behind the rows of trailing rosemary. Alas, they were caught unaware. Still, I thought I heard a quiet “noooooooo” as we carried our two selections to the van.

Our beautiful tomato

Our beautiful tomato

We planted the beauties in prepared containers, adjusted the sprinklers, and even sang them a song in hopes that the “plants love music” theory held some water. No sooner had we hit that last, awkward note then the valley winds blew in. They struck with such force that my children’s Radio Flyer collection launched across the yard, followed closely by the patio furniture. It didn’t take long for the first tomato plant to snap in half. The second plant held out, but after being perpetually bombarded for two weeks by ferocious winds, it too gave in and bent to the ground. I am certain the wind showed up just to annihilate our tomatoes, because shortly after the second casualty gave into the barrage, the wind retreated…victorious.

I tried to pretend it didn’t matter, that I was destined to have nothing edible come up anyway, that it was all a pipe dream, but my family knew better. They knew my history with tomatoes, and they saw me coming back for another pounding year after year, round after round. This time they were all in my corner. They pruned back the broken plant, re-staked the bent one, patted me gently on the shoulder and assured me that there was still hope. I almost believed them. I even sang another song. It went something like this:

Grow, tomato plants, grooooow.
Grooooowwwww so we can eat youuuuuu.

I’ve had moments of creative brilliance. That was not one of them.

Our dependable flowers

Our dependable flowers

Days ticked by…no tomato horn worms devoured our leaves.

A week…no sprinkler catastrophes.

A month…three, now four small tomatoes growing.

Another week…one is, no, can it be? It’s ripening!

I was almost afraid to hope, but hope I did! I even planned a meal around the one tomato! We would have salads with one perfect eighth of a tomato throned atop each pile of luscious greens! This was almost too much! This was garden heaven! This was…this was…this was SUCCESS!

Almost. The tomato needed one more day.

I sang to my tomato a rendition of Little Orphan Annie’s Tomorrow.

The sun’ll come out tomorrow.
Bet your bottom dollar that tomorroooowww…
We will cut you up into eight equal pieces and eat yooooouuuuu!


Jedi and his pal, Bob the Tomato

Jedi and his pal, Bob the Tomato

Tomorrow never came for that tomato. The dog, the beast, the furry monstrosity we call a pet, man’s best friend and woman’s arch-nemesis ate my tomato. He did not even bother to chew. He swallowed my tomato whole without enjoying the succulent, sun-warmed juices. How do I know this? Because the inhaler did not have the common courtesy to digest it. The garden pirate regurgitated the entire unchewed tomato in a gruesome pool of lawn clippings, a child’s lunch, half a dozen toxic tomato leaves and unidentifiable dog slime. He deposited this colorful array on my patio directly in front of the door, my prized tomato taking center stage, a mockery to my hopes, a fitting closure to a decade of gardening failure.

There is no happy ending to this story. My dog is not my best friend, we ate bland store-bought tomatoes for dinner, and my darling husband took a shovel and pitched the whole heart-wrenching (and apparently gut-wrenching) mess over the fence out into the desert. Hopefully some grateful desert hare can enjoy the fruits of our loving labor, because, apparently, we never will.

Sorry, Ma.

Sorry, Ma.

Our new song is one of sadness, an ode to a tomato:

We loved you soooooooo
Until our big fat hairy stinky dog ate you.
And if he eats another one he will be somebody else’s big fat hairy stinky dog.

A (rather weak) case can be made for the dog. He recently lost his favorite outdoor companion, a cherry red plush tomato with eyes (Bob the Tomato of VegieTale fame, in fact). It is possible, however remotely, that he saw this tomato as a suitable replacement pal…and immediately ate his new soul brother. Nevertheless…

Big fat hairy stinky dog for sale. Will trade for garden-fresh tomatoes.

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