Monday, January 14, 2013

Our January tomatoes

Tomatoes lined up waiting to be eaten

Simply Living
January 14, 2013

We were sitting at the kitchen table eating a lunch that included thick slices of a plump, red tomato freshly picked from one of the plants in the sunroom.

“I think I finally understand why my mother liked tomatoes so much,” Ralph said as he took another bite of the sandwich he made by wrapping tender young broccoli and kale leaves around slices of tomato, avocado and chives.    

A few weeks before, when winter chills seemed imminent, we moved a couple dozen cold-sensitive container plants including several tomatoes vines heavy with unripe, green fruit into the sun-warmed space.  The heat-loving tomatoes wasted no time responding to their new location.  Within days, hints of red appeared on the green orbs and shortly after, they grew flush with color.

Ralph was amazed by their rapid transformation.  “Did you see how many tomatoes are ripening?” he asked.  “They look incredible.”

He’s right.  They did.  At one point, we picked five ripe tomatoes off a single plant. 

This is the first year we’ve tried raising vegetables, herbs and a few flowers inside a solar-heated room attached to our house.  In addition to tomatoes, we are growing (and eating) sweet peppers, basil and Orlando eggplant.  The bush beans are just beginning and tiny young cukes have begun to form on the cucumber vines.

My garden-loving husband is delighted with this newly discovered means of extending the growing season.  He has been pleasantly surprised by how well all the vegetables are doing but nothing has astonished him more than the tomatoes.

Ralph didn’t think he liked tomatoes.  At least that’s what he had come to believe.

Like many deep-rooted convictions, Ralph’s resistance to tomatoes stemmed from his childhood.  His mother, Mary Boas, was an avid gardener who refused to limit her growing season.  She saved and started her own seeds, had prolific indoor displays of forced flower bulbs in winter and tended to extensive outdoor flower and vegetable gardens during the spring, summer and autumn. 

If you asked me what type of flower my mother-in-law liked best, I’d have to say roses even though she was passionate about many different blooms.  As a teen and into his adulthood Ralph helped his mother with garden chores including pruning rosebushes.  All those hours snipping thorny stems must have made an impression because to this day, he does his best to avoid any contact with those prickly beauties. 

Choosing my mother-in-law’s favorite flower is difficult because she liked so many, but there’s no doubt which vegetable she favored.  Tomatoes were her number one, hands-down choice and she grew some beauties.  As a boy and young man, Ralph helped his mother by pruning, supporting and tying tomato vines.  He sprayed the plants for pests, applied fertilizer and, of course, picked the fruit when they ripened.  However, instead of making him love tomatoes, all the work he did pampering his mother’s precious plants had the opposite effect.  Once he grew up and had his own gardens, he didn’t want to grow tomatoes at all.  

Fortunately, that changed this year after we rescued a few scrawny seedlings from a tenant’s abandoned garden.  Ralph repotted the runts and lavished them with attention.  The plants responded by growing fuller and developing fruit.  After we moved them into the sunroom, they really took off.  Before long, he tasted the results of his labor.  

“I guess I never realized how delicious tomatoes can be,” he admitted after taking yet another bite of his creative sandwich.

Understanding doesn’t always come quickly.  But when it does - like a good tomato - it’s meant to be savored. 

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