Wednesday, August 10, 2011

THE FIRST HARVEST - UPSIDE DOWN TOMATO GROWING

I spent the first 12 years of my life in Oakley, a suburb of Cincinnati.  I walked home from school in my plaid uniform, stopping at King Kwik for a snack  I walked to friends' houses and the public swimming pool and the movie theater.  Then my mother remarried and we moved to a semi-rural area near the Indiana border, where one could walk for miles and arrive at absolutely nothing.  Suddenly we had two acres and no sidewalks and my step-father grew zucchinis the size of baseball bats.  There were tomatoes and blackberries and a huge asparagus garden behind the garage (and given the erect way they came out of the ground I quickly dubbed it the "Penis Garden").

All this is by way of saying that I should have some vague idea how to grow food.  I should and I don't.  I frequently allow weeds to grow two feet high because I mistakenly think they're greenery (until someone points them out) and just as frequently I pull out flowers that haven't bloomed yet, patting myself on the back for actually weeding.  In desperation a couple years ago, I ripped everything out of the patch on the south side of my house and covered it in landscaping fabric and mulch because I couldn't control it.  Turns out you can't really kill spearmint and it's taken over half the space again, despite all my pulling.

Why then, despite my total lack of agricultural intelligence, did I decide to grow tomatoes?  The answer is simple:  Foghorn loves them.  And it's so rare that Foghorn loves something that's actually good for her I decided it was worth investing in cherry tomato plants.  I had seen the commercials for the upside down tomato-growing containers and wondered if that would aide the garden-challenged types like me.  But reviews online described them as flimsy and I could see more garbage headed for the landfill at season's end and decided against them.  After some research I came up with my own solution and it's working...sort of.

I purchased a large (VERY large) hanging basket with a coconut liner.  I counted on my mother to pick out the tomato plants for me and she presented me with three Sweet 100 plants.  I cut holes in the liner with an Xacto knife and carefully threaded the plants through.  I then piled in the potting soil and sprinkled the top with marigold seeds so there would be something pretty above the practical tomatoes.  I installed my newly purchased wrought iron plant holder (purchased at Hobby Lobby with a 40% off coupon) next to the deck and went to hang my planter.  That's when I discovered problem #1.  The thing weighed a TON.  I had to use both hands to hoist it in the air and then I had a hell of a time lifting it high enough to hang.  I finally got it aloft, though, and placed the chains over the hook on my plant stand.

That's when problem #2 manifested.  The basket plunged to the ground taking the plant stand with it.  I don't mean the stand fell over, I mean it BENT...over...sideways.  I frankly didn't know the metal was that flexible.  I raced off the deck and tugged the chain off the plant stand, a little afraid it would spring back to vertical and catch me in the chin on the way like something out of a Daffy Duck cartoon.  It didn't, but I now had a super heavy hanging basket with tomato plants which were being crushed and nowhere to hang it.  I did what any mature adult would do.  I called my mommy.

Following some discussion I ran to Home Depot and arrived home with three much smaller hanging baskets with coconut liners and two more wrought iron plant stands that my mother had sitting in her garage.  After cutting the new coconut liners and exhumation of the tomato plants and giving each a new home in its own planter, I was ready to grow some vegetables.  I watered and I Miracle Growed and I watched marigolds sprout from the top (along with another kind of flower whose seeds I sprinkled on top of the three new baskets) and I waited for little flowers that would tell me tomatoes were coming soon.  And I waited...and waited...and waited...



Future tomatoes




My crop




It wasn't until we were in the last month of the Inmates' summer vacation that I finally spotted a flower.  Last week the flower became a small green tomato and this week we finally have RED.  And I went out last night right before a thunderstorm and gathered my crop...all nine of them.  I carefully washed them and yelled for Foghorn.  She informed me my tomatoes weren't nearly as good as Grandma's, then quickly popped them in her mouth in quick succession like popcorn and sped off again into the night.

Harvesting time


In Raising Demons, Shirley Jackson writes of making homemade maple syrup from her own Vermont trees.  By the time she counted up the costs of equipment, the electricity to run a stove non-stop while boiling sap, and the replacement of the wallpaper that peeled from all the steam, the syrup cost about $75 a gallon (in 1950s dollars).  I figure those nine cherry tomatoes at roughly $12 each. 

If you decide to go the homemade upside down container route I described, here are the specifics.  I'm just a novice, so please don't sue me if my advice results in death or destruction. 

1.    For each Sweet 100 tomato plant I used a 12" hanging basket by CobraCo (coconut liner included), purchased at Home Depot. 

2.    I used Sweet 100 tomato plants purchased at Natorp's in Cincinnati.

3.    I watered daily unless we were blessed with a good soaking rain.

4.    I used Miracle Grow once a week.

5.    Be sure the plant stand you use is of heavy duty metal.  My Hobby Lobby purchase was more decorative than functional and I've had to hook it around one of the sturdier stands to keep it upright, even with the lighter basket.  I have no experience hanging anything from a porch roof and didn't trust my roof to withstand the weight.  These things are pretty darn heavy, even with only one plant per basket.

6.    Years ago in a Natorp's newsletter I read that banana peels can be buried in soil, acting as sort of a mini-composter.  The peelings won't smell or attract bugs and the nutrients enrich the soil.  I'm merely passing this on, so please don't blame me if it turns out bugs in your area love the darn things...


2 comments:

lillianscupboard said...

This is so funny, but you did get tomatoes and should continue to get them until the first frost. So, you're a gardener after all.
Mom

Kathie said...

LOL, at least you got tomatoes! Dennis bought a topsy turvy plant last summer and we got NOTHING!