It is already too hot for the devil himself outside, there’s a heat advisory today so I went out with the sunrise to tie up my towering sunflowers and a trellis of pickling cucumbers that drooped last night after a heavy rain. I picked my first tomato of the season as well. Although, I have no idea what kind of tomato it is. You see, this year is “the year of the mystery vegetables” in my garden.
This spring I was able to find all of my saved seeds in the kitchen junk drawer, but the writing had rubbed off the baggies so I had no idea what they were. If you haven’t gathered yet, I am not a savvy gardening savant. At least I could tell the type of seeds they were for the most part (peppers, tomatoes, squash). Oh, did I mention I have mystery peppers and squash in my garden. Not quite knowing exactly what I’m growing excites me a little bit, gave me that “devil-may-care” semblance. So I started me seedlings, being sure to separate them by some mediation but markers were useless at this point. Most popped up in the next 2 weeks but then, the pandemic hit, work went into hectic overdrive and there was a medical emergency in the family. I did get the opportunity to move the seeds to the garden into what I proudly call my “Southern Green houses” which are some clear plastic tubs turned over. Hey, it worked great. I uncovered them to let them harden as it got warmer but then, I strayed for a time from that true southern woman’s instinct, woven into our genetic makeup somewhere down deep is the need, nay the desire as I age to wear a big funny hat and grow tomatoes.
By the time I had gotten back out there my tomatoes were a foot tall and so were the weeds around them. Mind you I’d left everything squeezed like an 80s teenage girl in a pair of Jordache in the seed starter trays (and yes, I was one of those girls).
My work was cut out for me, I began to weed, and tend the soil, bartered some pineberry plants for a few bell peppers, chili, pickling cucumber and basil and I was off to the races as they say.
This morning as I said, I picked my first mystery tomato. Adorning my Sherlock Holmes hat with magnifying glass in hand I’ve begun the arduous task of identifying this little cherry-esque tomato.
I gather seeds as a squirrel would gather up nuts for winter. Whatever vegetable finds it way into my kitchen is fair game. Like a mad scientist in his lab, I dissect these poor veggies to their own horror. I bought some of those cherry tomatoes labeled “artesian” a while back so I have a feeling this tomato “tree” may be a product of seeds I sniped up while making a salad, that’s how I roll. And yes I said tomato tree.
This thing is taller than my 6 foot privacy fence and the stalk has begun to resemble a small maple tree.
It reminded me of a summer in 2005. We’d decided it would be a great idea to move North because we were sick and tired of the South and its “southerness”. So we picked up and randomly moved to Pennsylvania. When we arrived the house we’d arranged to lease fell through so with a Uhaul toting our possessions we scrambled to find another. We happened upon an eccentric farmhouse nestled on a century old orchard on the side of a ski mountain. It was bliss.
Our back yard was a cherry orchard, to the side was a black berry patch, then pear trees and across the road were the biggest Granny Smith apples I had ever seen. You had to get to them before the wasps did because the orchard had been long forgotten by its original owners so the bugs and birds were the proprietors now. Over by the blackberry patch the night life was jumpin’. We’d sit on the back porch in the evening to watch the deer graze and thousands of fireflies dance the night away.
It was right off that porch where I had decided to stick a couple of tomato plants that spring. I am, I suppose what you’d call “an accidental gardener” because those tomato plants had hardened trunks and produced well over a hundred tomatoes that summer. Tomatoes of all shapes and sizes, usually quite big and some twisted and huge, heirlooms I believe. They were stored all over the house that summer, like an invasion of tribbles from the Starship Enterprise. Open a cabinet and they’d come pouring out onto you. I may be exaggerating just a little bit. At one point we’d begun to think we were on some ancient Indian burial ground and that plant was possessed by some ancient spirit because of how it grew like an old twisted tree eloped from a haunted forest. I was down right scared of it by the time fall sauntered in. We had to excavate the stump out of the ground that fall, it was burrowed into the ground stronger than a deer tick on an Alabama Cur!
Early the next spring the well ran dry at our quintessential little farmhouse and the owner decided not to continue leasing so we moved to an apartment in the city. And as the South usually does, it called us home like your Momma to supper on a warm summer evening and we went back to her. Sometimes when the summer nights begin to cool and cicadas song begins to wane we still speak of that ole twisted tomato tree we grew on the orchard that summer. Each time the lore is spoken the tomatoes are more plentiful and large, the stalk more tree-like and twisted but it was, in reality, a sight to behold and legend to be part of. A wondrously tall tale to be spun.