The Hellhole

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Tomato Experiment

At the beginning of this summer, we were in BJ's doing our usual Saturday errands when we happened to pass by a shelf that contained a number of "as seen on TV" products, among them the Topsy-Turvy tomato planter.  We love tomatoes muchly, so Alan said, "Hmmm....I might want to try this."  So we bought the Topsy-Turvy and then went to Lowe's to buy tomato plants.  We decided on heirloom Rutgers tomatoes and at some point during our travels we decided it would be a contest:  we would buy two heirloom Rutgers tomato plants, Alan would plant his in the Topsy-Turvy and I would plant mine in a traditional pot, and we'd see which thrived and yielded better.

My plant grew totally berserk.  It was three feet tall in about a week and was covered in blooms, which my mom told me would soon be tiny tomatoes that would grow into big, delicious tomatoes.  Alan's grew more slowly, but still significantly, though his plant had nowhere near the blooms and tiny tomato buds I had.  I drooled daily as I watered, thinking of the delicious tomatoes to come.

It is now time to digress to 1989, Steel Magnolias and the great quote from Shirley MacLaine/Ouiser Boudreaux on the topic of growing tomatoes...

Ouiser: I hate em. I try not to eat healthy food if I can possibly help it. The sooner my body gives out the better off I'll be... I can't get enough grease into my diet. 

Anelle: Then why do you grow them?

Ouiser:  Because I'm an old Southern woman and we're supposed to wear funny looking hats and ugly clothes and grow vegetables in the dirt. Don't ask me those questions. I don't know why, I don't make the rules!

Our tomato experiment didn't turn out so well.  My plant grew so huge that storms, which we get a lot of in summer afternoons in Georgia, started blowing it over and some burgeoning tomatoes were crushed on the patio.  I moved it from its large but inexpensive plastic pot to a very heavy clay pot into which I put a brick at the bottom before adding potting soil  (this large clay pot was rather expensive, over thirty bucks).  This helped for a time, but soon it grew so large and tall that it was still blowing over in storms, and sometimes just blowing over because it felt like it.  Alan's plant continued to grow, almost over the roof of our house, but produced very few blossoms and tomato buds.

At some point our housekeeper, The Sainted Miss Betty, came over to clean, saw the plants and remarked to Alan that she'd tried the Topsy-Turvy a few times and had never been able to get it to produce anything.  We continued to water and try.

At length, my plant produced two tomatoes (one huge, one medium) in a beautiful red hue so I picked them, only to find that they were split and rotting at the top of the stem.  Then we picked a few biggish but green ones to see if they would ripen in the house on the windowsill.  Two did, some stayed green, hard and tiny.  Next, it seemed that between my plant taking a dive and smashing or shaking off baby tomatoes as it hit the ground, birds had discovered the plants and were destroying the fruit.

It finally happened that we had a tomato worth eating, so we sliced it, added salt and pepper, drizzled it with olive oil, then added basil from my mini herb garden (more on this later) and crumbled bleu cheese.  I can say that it was definitely the tastiest, loveliest tomato I've ever eaten, but also the most expensive, between plants, potting soil and multiple pots.  Alan has been able to salvage some slices for his salads - but honestly, between nothing happening with his and mine happening but getting destroyed/rotted, Campari tomatoes are a very good substitute, much less expensive and it's much less hassle to just pick up a tray at the aforementioned BJ's for five bucks.

I had much better luck with my tiny box herb garden, in which I planted basil, rosemary, cilantro and oregano - that's where we got the basil that we put on the one Rutgers tomato we ate.  But I don't want my sweet little herbs to die, so I was thinking about bringing them in for the winter and trying to coax them to live through the season.  The box they're in is too wide for a windowsill and I'm wondering if it would be too cold even with the sunlight.  So then I thought about those grow-lights that people use to grow marijuana inside their house, but I wasn't sure if that was illegal as an implement or only illegal depending on what one did with it.

So a moment ago, I called my county sheriff's department's non emergency number, told them about my little FOOD-RELATED herb garden, wanting it to live through the winter and asked the nice lady, "You know those grow-lights people use for marijuana?"

"Yes ma'am."  [in a DUH! tone of voice]

"Okay, what I want to know is, are those things illegal to buy and possess, or are they only illegal if you do something illegal with them?"

There was a long pause and she was flummoxed.  She had to put me on hold and go ask someone else.  When she came back - well, I still don't know the answer.  She said they were not to give legal advice but they could send an officer out to speak to me.  I didn't really want that; I mean, I'm not up to anything, I called from our home phone and gave her my name before my question so it's not like I'm up to nefarious activities, but I didn't want to waste department resources on my stupid question that I don't even know will work (i.e., even if they tell me it's totally legal, where does one go to buy such a thing???) and I didn't want Alan coming home from class to find a police cruiser in our driveway - no way he deserves that.  She kinda hemmed and hawed when talking to me, continuing to stress that she couldn't give me advice, but seeming to want to/try to tell me it was only illegal if I did something illegal with it.  I still don't know about the fate of my herb garden though, because even if she'd told me it was 100% fine, I don't exactly know a drug grower or dealer that I can call to get one...maybe my sweet little herb garden will have to die and be resurrected next year, but I hope not.  I want to save them.

But I'm not sure The Tomato Experiment is worth repeating - we got so very, very few tomatoes from all that money and time (we were religious about checking them every day, adding water and plant food) - I mean, I'd so much rather grow our own and have heirloom tomatoes, but 3 - 4 tomatoes after a whole summer's efforts seems quite silly.


  • Could you get a tanning bed and put your plants in there to get some sun?


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:03 AM  

  • You are just the funniest girl. I had to share your marijuana (oh, I mean herb) growing dilemma with my husband. His question: why doesn't she call a nursery and ask them? He's very reasonable that way.

    As for the tomatoes, Helly, that's why they have those things called grocery stores with produce sections. Let the professionals handle growing your food.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:42 PM  

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