>Every year I start with plans – big plans. This year the big change was the new tomato plot. We planned ahead, set it up as a large triangle with layers of cardboard and newspaper covered with compost in the style of a lasagna garden. When spring came, we braced the three sides with boards donated by a generous neighbor and then covered the area with about 4 inches of soil trucked in from a local nursery. Then I planted: tomatoes, peppers, and broccoli, with a few wildflower seeds scattered across the back. Fleet Farm had the tomato supports I wanted, and we were set.
Then I got sick. The bathroom/bedroom/laundry remodel ran overtime. And the weather? Heat, humidity, rain, heat, humidity, rain. The tomatoes loved it. So did the weeds. So did the neighborhood wild bunnies, when they found out that Chuck hadn’t had time to fence it in. The small furry creatures hid in the tomatoes and ate the broccoli. All of it.
Eventually, I had surgery. Recovery was quick, but the weeds were still growing. I finally had a chance to weed, pulling some odd invasive plants that must have come in with the soil, as they only turned up in the triangle. One of the storms came complete with hail and bent several tomato vines, so I pruned and tied them up as best I could. One cherry tomato plant had spread its wings, er, branches so far that it put the banana pepper in its shade. I put in a second support, tied it up with t-shirt strips from Chuck’s old Survivor t-shirt (the irony was not lost on me), and then let the pepper plant grow. Again. It’s doing fine now.
Nature does humble a person. No matter how much research I do, online or in books, no matter how many experts I ask, the weather will take its own course. No matter how healthy I am or vice versa, the plants and weeds will keep on growing. They’ll fall over before the wind, and I’ll pick up what I can, but the storms will arrive when they will. When it’s super hot, I’ll drain the rain barrels to water the plants. When it’s rainy, I’ll squash mosquitoes. If I’m lucky, we’ll get just enough rain to refill the barrels and all will be well with the backyard gardening world.
Then harvest time arrived. Peas didn’t do well. Beans didn’t do well. Something feathered or furry ate the spinach. Zucchini came late, but seems to be okay. The tomatoes, at long last, were (and still are) my pride and joy. Flushed with excitement from my jam-making success, it was time to can tomatoes. I gathered supplies, pulled together my jars and lids and water-bath canner, examined the recipe, stepped back to look it over with pride and excitement, and then weighed and measured the tomatoes.
I didn’t have enough. I’d gathered slightly less than half what I needed, not counting the plum size that were generous, but still small enough to be a hassle to peel. Heaving a deep sigh, I bought several pounds of large tomatoes from the midweek farmers’ market. Despite my new plot, composted soil, lots of rain and sun, the backyard-grown tomatoes had to be supplemented with those purchased from someone else. A farmer, yes, not a store, but they weren’t mine, and I felt disappointed – and humble.
The stewed tomatoes, mine & the farmer’s, cooked up nicely, but not without drama. I found out that my water-bath canner isn’t big enough for quart size jars. It can handle half-pints (as my jams showed) and pints (barely – the water nearly overflowed). The pot and the rack are both too small for quarts. This discovery was also, you guessed it, humbling. Beginning canner and food preserver that I am, I have a dozen wide-mouth quart jars in the basement and no way to heat them – if I had enough tomatoes. Sigh.
Finally, last but not least, the clear jars with their heat-sealed lids humbled me one more time. The stewed tomatoes finished up with a case of Fruit Float; the tomatoes floated on top of an almost-clear liquid. I went to my sources again (Twitter and Plurk and my best canning books) and found out that as long as the seal is complete, this is not a problem. There are ways to avoid it, which I might try next time, but it doesn’t indicate trouble or predict spoilage.
Maybe next summer will be the one when I fully take control of the garden – or not. For now, I’m grateful that my garden is a hobby, albeit a productive one. I’m glad I still have the farmers’ market and the grocery store as resources. Maybe next year will be the year I humbly join a CSA.