First fruits- at last, success in the garden

Friday, July 15, 2005

For the first time in more than a decade, I'm not whining about free tomatoes.

That's because Trapper Joe, Rocker Joe, Roofer Joe has become Farmer Joe.

By the way, I got stuck with those other nicknames for good reasons.

Last fall I used a live trap to catch seven raccoons that were wreaking havoc on my patio fountain. They: Were thirsty. Thought the goldfish were appetizing. Or wanted to wash their dirty garbage. You pick.

That patio fountain, as you all know by now, is made up of rocks my family has collected over the past 40 years or so.

And anyone in my neighborhood can testify that I'm the only person they know who sweeps his roof on a fairly regular basis. Those limbs keep falling, and I keep sweeping.

So why haven't you heard my annual plea for free tomatoes this year?

We're growing our own.

Honest to goodness, those plants have gone wild, even though we had been concerned that our house was situated on a nuclear dump.

There is no rhyme or reason why some things grow in our yard and others don't. Boston ivy loves our shady plot. And the wild hedge we share with a neighbor is a miniature rain forest whose darkest interior has never been explored by humans.

So why don't flowers that bloom do well in our yard? An inquiring wife would like to know.

My wife thrives on blossoms. But year after year, she has been disappointed with her efforts to add blooming plants to our yard.

"I think the ground is radioactive," she concluded after several years of withering results. This is especially hard for a woman whose green thumb is legendary, having produced flowery excess in five states, including overflowing flower boxes on the fire escapes of a New York apartment building. I don't know how many city codes that violated, but the neighbors all took the hint.

A couple of years ago we tried a few tomato plants in the only flower garden that gets any sun in our front yard. The results were pitiful. And messy. Untended tomato vines do not a pretty garden make.

This year, I suggested that we take out an old, visually unappealing hedge in our back yard under our bedroom window. My wife fiercely defends anything that actually survives in our yard, so she had to be convinced. When I told her the resulting bare ground could be turned into a tomato patch with room left over for nasturtiums, she readily agreed.

I planted six Better Boy tomato plants and carefully placed wire cages around them. That was in April -- way too early. But the exterior brick wall of our house soaked up the warm sunshine and kept the plants from freezing.

Nasturtiums that my wife and older son planted in the little garden area appeared to be doomed. Cold, wet weather is not what nasturtiums want. And the seeds may have been poked just a wee bit too far into the ground.

The nasturtiums finally broke through the surface long after we had decided the seeds had rotted. Only a handful of plants survived. But they are giving us quite a show, producing about a hundred blossoms ever other day or so.

And the tomatoes? They aren't called Better Boy for nothing. We had our first BLTs of the season this week. We are still smiling.

By the way, just in case you happen to have excess tomatoes, we still accept donations.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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