Thursday, April 15, 2010
We are almost at the end of the Spring Tomato Saga…All I have left are eleven plants, sitting in one clearly labeled tray. We accidently gave away our plants a few years ago in the rush to clear them out and I was left with five stupices and a couple of sungolds. I had to buy plants! Since then, I have labeled clearly.
The journey begins at Candlemas, when we plant six-packs of all of the varieties, two seeds per slot. Given the ease of tomato seed germination, that means ten to fourteen plants of all seven types. And yes, we do need seven varieties of tomatoes—how could anyone give up the little golden, sweet Sungolds warm off of the vine? Or the complexity of the Green Grapes on a September afternoon? The large firm slices of a Black Prince? The color values of a Lemon Plum mixed into the dried tomatoes for winter? The delicate foliage of a Silvery Fir Tree? The Long-keeper, which gives you a tasty tomato on the Winter Solstice? And you always need some canners—long romas that come ripe just when school starts. So, I plant them all, knowing that there will be far more plants than we need. Distribute the surplus—one of the first principles of permaculture design.
Once planted, the flats come to school and sit under the light on my counter. They thrive. Once or twice someone has messed with one or two plants, but usually they are left alone, if not encouraged. Some years, entire classes check on them regularly. Someone is always amazed that the plants smell like a tomato! One year, I found a tiny origami crane tucked in with the plants as I carried them home.
By Spring Break, they are ready for re-potting. Suddenly, one innocent tray of tomato seedlings burgeons into 80-90 small plants—four large trays to move in and out. At that point, I send out the call—get them out of the living room. Until they are gone, I haul plants out in the morning, sometimes to the bench in front of the door, sometimes to the mobile greenhouse known as The Ark, and back in for sudden hailstorms and darkness. Every afternoon, I deal in tomato plants, describing their loveliness, giving hints about planting and care, pushing them out into the world. Some people take a dozen; some just one or two. I have repeat customers; I set requested plants aside for pick-up at Hot Cross Buns. This year, when just a handful of romas were left, I called a “clean-up squad”—a friend who plants a huge garden every year—to come and haul them away.
We were left with the one small tray, labeled “OUR PLANTS” to move in and out on warm days. Soon, they will be popped into their wooden barrels along the south side of the house, ready for summer.