This spring I lugged home a tomato plant from the the farmer’s market at Union Square. In my rich inner life, where I’m rich and have a country house, I also have a garden; but in real life, I have pots on a terrace (and yes, yes, I recognize how lucky I am to have this, don’t worry). I was hell-bent this summer on trying to grow tomatoes, I’m not sure why.
Oh I know, it’s because tomatoes that come out of grocery stores taste like cold wet cardboard that’s been briefly whisked through catsup.
So me and my tomatoes began a relationship. I watered and inspected the plants for bugs, wondered if anything could really grow 15 floors up in the midst of a hellish cross-town breeze and summer sun that beats down from dawn until 12:34 precisely, at which point it’s full shade and that damn breeze, which has shredded more flowering plants than I want to admit. And that’s without the added atmospheric delight of bus exhaust wafting up from the bus stop downstairs, directly in front of our apartment. If the tomatoes actually grew, it crossed my mind that they might have absorbed so much carbon dioxide that they’d be toxic.
Things went just swimmingly at first and then the leaves started doing some kind of crisping thing: little patches of mold appeared and then the leaves turned brown and shriveled up. I panicked but luckily, my facebook friends have among them a great deal of gardening sense. I separated the plants, decided against organic fertilizing items (when you’re growing edibles just above a bus stop, really at that point, what’s a little Miracle-Gro), invested in some chemicals, and kept my fingers crossed.
Wouldn’t you know it? They grew! I actually grew tomatoes–about ten, to be exact–right there, above the bus stop and in spite of the breeze. Nature, eh? What a thing.
The leaves still look awful, but the tomatoes are so pretty, just like real tomatoes:
Their leaves look utterly diseased and wretched, though, don’t they? I think it’s sort of the same thing that happens to expectant mothers, in the month or so before they give birth: those staring dark-ringed eyes, the staggering walk, the face clenched with spasms of pain from backache, footache, indigestion…when it’s clear that the little baby-t0-be inside you is literally sucking away your life force. I figure it’s all just getting us ready for the hit that personal grooming takes, post-partum, a phase that for women like Heidi Klum and Jessica Alba lasts about two weeks and for others of us….um, well, let’s just say that I’m thinking when son #1 hits 11 (he’s 9 now), I will have gotten a handle on the whole post-partum shlubbiness. Damn those celebumommies, making it harder on all the rest of us. I’m not sure what the tomato equivalent of Heidi Klum is, but I’m pretty sure it’s growing in a corporate greenhouse somewhere in Florida.
I picked seven of my tomatoes today; I’m hoping few that are still on the plant will continue to ripen. Aren’t they beautiful?
I ate some for lunch today. They were still warm from the morning sun and so sweet that I remembered: a tomato is a FRUIT, people! A fruit! The cardboard grocery store kind have had the fruitiness bred right out of them, but these? Summer in your mouth.
And not the slightest hint of bus exhaust.
Next summer, I’m thinking corn.
(These tomatoes look particularly beautiful in their blue bowl, which is one of a set that our friend Nancy made for us. She (and her beautiful pottery) will be at the Potter’s Market on the green in Watermill on Columbus Day weekend this year. You know you want to go to the East End for Columbus Day–often still warm, no crowds, you know the drill–and even store-bought tomatoes would look pretty in these bowls.)