When I first moved to the South, my husband warned me that here, anything worth eating was fried. I didnít believe him, so it was with some incredulity that I looked upon my first fried green tomato. In my Yankee ignorance, I thought, ďFor Peteís sake, who would think to fry a tomato?Ē
But then I took a little bite and thought, ďSo this is what heaven tastes like.Ē The very next year, I determined to plant an entire host of tomato plants. And I did. Not one to do things by half measures, I planted legions of them. I dreamt of happy little tomatoes, swaying in the breeze. I could see their fronds outstretched, their faces turned toward heaven: Fields of bible-reading, praise-singing, full-gospel tomatoes, worshiping the sun. It was a lovely dream.
My only previous foray into gardening had been an unfortunate week spent babysitting a friendís prize-winning cactus. Who knew they didnít need water? The cactus drowned, and our friendship floundered for a few days. Thankfully, the friendship eventually bounced back, but Iím afraid the cactus did not.
An argument could have been made that I am, after all, a city girl by birth and by nature, and therefore, the subtle nuances of the gardening arts allude me. The sum total of my gardening knowledge was dirt, plus water, plus seed, equals plant. It is not my fault that cacti operate outside the accepted perimeters of plant life.
It was with this dubious gardening resume that I turned my attentions toward the dream of a tomato garden. I spent an entire warm afternoon in mid-March, planting baby tomatoes with the children, and singing Veggie Tale songs, hoping to encourage the little plants to be all that they could be.
I had all of the tools necessary for planting and growing healthy plants: a silver serving spoon, with which to dig the holes, a ruler to measure the precise distance recommended between each plant, and a Waterford vase from which I poured life-giving Evian upon the little plants. Tomatoes would never know more love or care than what I would bestow on my little garden.
I was so proud of my accomplishment that I dragged my good friend and neighbor over to view my first attempts at gardening. His reaction was not what I expected. I had expected a brotherly pat on the head. I had expected him to say what a wonderful job I had done. I had expected him to comment on the neatness of the rows. What I got was a look that said, ďPoor city girl doesnít know an almanac from the back of a cereal box.Ē
He could have told me that it wasnít time to put in tomatoes, but I guess he thought it was better to learn from experience. And he was right. I quickly learned that like most things in life, when it comes to planting, timing is essential.
Needless to say, my tomato plants all froze to death one dark, lonely night. It was a sad time and I grieved for my happy little tomatoes that would never be, but I learned that you canít just go sticking plants in the dirt willy-nilly whenever the urge strikes you. You have to wait for the right time. You have to wait for that last frost to pass.
My experience taught me more about life than it did about gardening: Itís easy to become excited about a new venture, and to jump into it without checking the book for directions, but it is wiser to stop and do the necessary research; to pray and know what youíre doing before you commit. In this way, the frost will never touch that which you have planted, and your table will be laden with the fruits of your labor.
Spring has dawned again, and now that Iíve gained a bit of wisdom and learned a lesson or two about the finicky ways of tomatoes, I may try my hand again. Armed with knowledge, and bottle of Evian, I remain ever hopeful that I will one day grow tomatoes in the sun.