Absolutely Nothing To Grow – I say tomato….

For a gardener, the culinary year begins long before the fruits of their labor show up on a plate. In the dead of winter, seed catalogues arrive in the mail, and with them the dream of a garden so large it can contain all the cornucopia of riches you’d like to grow. Writing up your order list is rather like packing for a holiday; you put in everything you need then take out two-thirds. Especially if you only have a small garden. I always order Brandywine tomatoes — an heirloom variety that produces big beefsteak tomatoes that are perfect for slicing. They have a well-deserved reputation for being the best-tasting, too. They come in red, yellow, pink and black and look beautiful on a plate.

The packets arrive in the first week of February in a teeny-tiny cardboard box hardly bigger than a seed packet itself. A moist mixture of potting soil, sphagnum moss and peat gets packed into trays, and in go the seeds. A light mist of water and on with the clear plastic lid. They sit in the basement until the little green shoots appear, then it’s upstairs on any surface near a window I can find. I always overdo it and end up with a couple of hundred plants and have to give them away to anyone willing to take them. By late March they are ready to be hardened off outside during the day, and brought in at night. Meanwhile, as soon as the earth is pliable, I dig in compost and manure. This needs to be done a couple of weeks before you put the plants in or the rich nutrients will “burn” them.

Once the baby plants are put in the ground it looks like you’ve left far too much space and could pack several more in, but this is just a illusion; by June it’s a jungle so thick you have to start cutting them back or be overrun. Tomatoes are vines, so given the chance they will grow and grow and not stop growing. I end up tying mine up to the nearest immovable object so they don’t fall over, but they still top out at six or seven feet.

And then…they appear — light green at first, but turning bigger, softer, redder….

By late July, when the heat is beating down, you finally get to slice one still warm from the sun. Drizzle on a little olive oil, a pinch of Malden Salt, and voila: perfection.

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