Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Poor harvests and other disappointments of the soul

So let this year be known as the year without tomatoes. That’s what they told me at the garden center when I offered my lament on the unwonted sparseness of my garden’s tomato crop: “Nobody has tomatoes.” Businesslike shake of the head. “This is the year without tomatoes.”

I did have many squash plants, which turned out – in a chastening demonstration of the foolish bravado of my ‘let a hundred flowers bloom’ philosophy of anarchistic gardening – to be all pumpkin plants. Which plants proceeded to take over the garden, string themselves from tomato pole to tomato pole (not that the underpopulated tomato plants were particularly in need of support to hold the weight of their nonexistent fruit), and develop the easily foreseeable rash of spotted white mildew disease which has spoiled my previous efforts to grow squashes in this garden. We do have a half dozen petite pumpkins, about the size of hardballs, only the largest one – smaller than a gym class spud ball – indisputably saying pumpkin to the casual observer. These winter squashes will ripen, but will get no bigger since their plants are succumbing to the white mildew epidemic, so I am working hard to stimulate a cutting edge fashion for decorator petite pumpkins.

I cut off the silky leaves of the squash plants when they develop chalky white spots, leaving behind the maimed yellow stalks which look like cracked piping to nowhere. I have changed the geometry of the vegetable garden several times already this summer, adding new seedlings, new rounds of bean seeds, encouraging the squash runners to use the metal funnel-shaped pea supports, then cutting them back when the leaves diseased. With dead or non-productive foliage removed, more sun gets in now, but for late August the pickings are thin. The basil plants, freed from competition for sun – once summer sun arrived in the very last days of July – have rebounded, growing bushy new leaves. My culinary daughter Sonya is here and harvests them aplenty. The skinny, mostly naked sweet pepper plants have begun to set tiny peppers, the largest maybe two inches long. Some are mere tiny green circles emerging from white flowers. But the tomato plants are not making new flowers and so to all appearances have closed the book on their miniscule haul of round red fruit.

So yesterday, finding myself in a local garden shop in search of herbs for our expanded “spice garden” (Sonya’s literary term for it), I came across vigorous, healthy potted tomato and pepper plants for a dollar apiece, already bearing more fruit on thick leafy branches than a dollar will buy in the grocery store, and snapped up a few. The two new tomato plants are ‘beefsteak,’ a variety I would not ordinarily choose because of its hubristic name, but their fat green offspring are a welcome sight. I looked forward to popping them in the ground and trusting in nature the rest of the way.

Now here’s the problem. I planned to pull out the current, moribund inhabitants of and re-use their stakes. However, when I give said post-productive plants a close, last look before yanking them, my tender heart imagines I spy new growth, a greener green, near the top of the main stem and reasons if there are new leaves then surely there may be new yellow flowers, and if flowers then fruit. Never mind we are speaking of Aug. 23, and when will this prophesied new fruit mature? I am a holdout for late season comebacks. A late-life daydream believer.

The old ones stay. I fit the three new fat plants in between. Sports writers would call it a late-season acquisition.