After the Tomatoes of Summer are Gone

It happened today.  I was weed eating the back yard and carefully trimming around the plants, not really caring if I cut some of their leaves that were now drooping from foliage that already showed its flora and pretty colors weeks ago.  They’ll be changing into their autumnal wardrobe soon, tired of summer just as much as I am.  They’ll slouch to the ground even more and I’ll cut them again. The garden will be barren and brown and dead, waiting for a winter coat of white.

J has grown tired of summer too. He decided to start cutting back the tomato plants and harvesting what was left, even those smaller green ones that haven’t ripened yet. These were the five plants we planted in May that were no more than six inches tall at the time.  Our 8 x 12 garden seemed to dominate them at the time like they were tiny chicks in a massive  barn yard. But they grew. We caged them even inside the gated garden, but they still grew. One of them was at least six feet tall. And all of them were heavy with fruit.  The garden couldn’t hold them back.

It was all of that rain we got back in May and June. I think I can count on one hand the number of times we had to water the garden ourselves this year. It didn’t get hot enough for zucchini or squash. I think we harvested two of each and they were tiny compared to years past. Even the cucumbers weren’t as plentiful this year. But the tomatoes knew the summer heat would come and that it did. July and August were reliable when it came to tomato weather.

We harvested and canned, and then did it again the following weekend. And last weekend too. We added another 8 quarts to the pantry shelf today. I probably won’t have to buy pasta sauce at all this winter. And that’s okay. It’s one of the reasons why we grow so much.

I hate raw tomatoes.  Yep, you read that right. I hate them. I don’t want them on a salad or on my sandwich. Yuck!  Hate, hate, hate. I always have. But want to know something funny?  I love fresh salsa. Tomato sauce in chili or on pasta is fine too. Cook them or blend them in with other ingredients and I love it.

My father was a tomato farmer in his spare time back when I was growing up. He had a green house in the back yard. He planted tomato seeds in December. He got up at 3am every morning to go to the green house to stoke the fire in the pot belly stove. And in March we planted hundreds of tomato plants. Yes, hundreds. Acres of them. Each plant got staked weeks later with a wooden stake. To keep the weeds down, he saved newspapers all winter long. Sheets of newspaper were laid on the ground up around each plant and covered with dirt. He paid neighborhood boys to help do this daunting task. By the end of the day, the garden looked like a giant black and white dirty quilt of newspaper. I somehow managed to get out of doing this each summer thanks to some griping and some tears. And weeks later, Dad wove rows of twine from one plant to the next, neatly giving the plants a ladder of string to grow upon. He loved each plant for what it was worth.

But guess what?  My father hated tomatoes too. He never ate them unless they were fried green tomatoes. And all the ones he grew?  He gave them all away. He pulled my red wagon full of tomatoes around the neighborhood and knocked on the doors of widow neighbors and gave them all the tomatoes they wanted. Sure, he sold some to local groceries and strangers who knew he was the tomato man in town. But it wasn’t enough to be profitable from all the time and money he’d put into a summer harvest.  And he didn’t care. My mom canned tomato juice all summer and ate her fill of tomatoes on BLT’s and salads all summer long. And this all made Dad very happy.

Like me, my brother and sister don’t like raw tomatoes either.  My brother planted a garden for my Mom this year in her back yard and repeated Dad’s summer lament.  My brother and Mom gave most of them away. There were too many to eat and Mom doesn’t can anymore.  My parents divorced 21 years ago. Dad is too old to manage a garden and is in a senior center now. My brother took home grown tomatoes to him so he could give them away to the nurses on duty. Tomato juice runs in our blood, whether we like it or not.

Tomatoes are easy to grow. They are always plentiful. They remind me of home and of my childhood. I appreciate them and the memories from their vines. It’s why I grow them each year.  It’s why I give them away. It’s why I can them. A part of me likes to save that part of my past as best I can. For now.

It happened today. I was weed eating the back yard and growing weary of the task. I wiped the sweat from my brow, rushing my summer away. I hate to see the garden go, but as long as I’m able, there will be more tomatoes next year.  More to can. More to eat. More to give away.

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