Monday, June 16, 2008

Victory Garden may yet yield fruit

My Victory Garden is off to a rocky start.

It’s not much of a garden, just three tomato plants that I bought at the Cheyenne plant sale a month ago. But that’s three more tomato plants than I’ve planted since we moved to high, dry and windy Wyoming in 1991.

This is an auspicious year to plant tomatoes. First of all, there’s the salmonella scare. And rising gas prices are boosting food costs. It takes a lot of diesel fuel to truck tomatoes from Texas or California to Wyoming. And when they arrive, they’re not so good. Local agriculture is in, veggies from Chile are out. Farmer’s markers are in, supermarkets are out. And, as we know, there’s a war on (several wars, in fact) and we need to be aware of our precarious position within the world’s food and petroleum supply chains.

So, in mid-May, I went to the spring sale and bought three six-inch-tall plants from an organic gardener out of Wellington, Colo., about 30 miles south on I-25. She called them heirloom varieties: Zapotec, German Striped, and Gold Currant. I wasn’t familiar with the term as it relates to tomatoes. When I Googled it, I discovered that heirlooms are non-hybrids that trace their origins to pre-World War II farms and gardens. They’re tougher to grow than modern hybrids, and the plants take up lots of room with their fast-growing stems. But they have cool names, and the fruit can be very funky-looking. The Black Krim is chocolate-colored. Zapotec is really called Zapotec Pleated because (as you might surmise) it has more pleats that a pair of Zoot Suit pants (see photo). They are indigenous to Mexico.

I placed the three plants on a table in front of my south-facing kitchen window. They grew like crazy, 18 inches high before I could get to the local nursery. I bought three big pots and potting soil and cages. On an 80-degree June afternoon, I assembled all the pieces in my backyard. I watered the plants, admired my handiwork, and went inside with an intense feeling of superiority.

That night, the temperature dropped, the north wind freshened, and in the morning I had tousled plants with frozen leaves. I hauled the plants back inside and put them on the floor in front of the south-facing window and the furnace vent. I cursed the elements. I remembered why I haven’t tried tomatoes in Wyoming.

After a few days of stewing about it, I fertilized the plants and began to hope that they would bear some pleated fruit before the next cataclysm struck. I’m keeping them inside until the arrival of the first official day of summer, or maybe longer. I have them in pots so I can move them under the porch roof in case of hail storms. We’ve had two already, and more are sure to come.

Much too early to declare victory for my garden. Or even "Mission Accomplished."


mpage225 said...

Damn, Mike, it is rough out in Wyoming. Here in KC I have had my tomato plants out for about a month without a problem and am starting to get tomatoes, though they are still green. I have found that green/red peppers grow very well in pots outside and are a good compliment to tomatoes.

On the positive side, you have not experienced the high winds and tornadoes that have ravaged much of the country. I will send you pictures of the tree that took out 2 of my cars and just a bit of the roof in May.

Good luck and don't give up, it will be worth the wait.


Michael Shay said...

I've heard that K.C. has been in the lousy weather zone this spring. Sorry to hear about the cars and roof. But it sounds as if your Victory Garden is flourishing. We'll compare crop yields in August.

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