Let me start by saying what I know about farming wouldn’t fill a thimble. A Chicagoan by birth and for the first six years of my life, I saw nothing in the way of an agrarian lifestyle. After my dad’s transfer to Ohio to take over a Central Steel and Wire sales territory, during the early June drive in 1958 to some place called Lima, Ohio, the topographical changes I saw amazed me. I left a world of mostly concrete and a dearth of greenery to field after field rife with growth.
From the back seat of our 1953 DeSoto as we rolled through Indiana, I spied a cylindrical tall caged structure in the distance filled with yellow. Excitedly, I wanted to share this odd sight and blurted, “Have you ever seen that many bananas in one place?” Hey, what can I tell you? During my first six years in Chicago, I’d only seen corn that came out of a Del Monte can.
Now, 65 years later, thanks to my Lady Jane, who was raised both on a farm and was surrounded by farms, I’ve picked up a few tidbits about the whole culture. For instance, I can tell the difference between field corn and sweet corn, what a field of timothy looks like and what color soybeans turn in late September when it’s time to harvest them.
Now, when it comes to my own annual attempts to garden, I really have been programmed to expect little from my three evenly spaced tomato plants, all that’ll fit in the overturned soil enhanced with MiracleGro Potting Mix.
For those who garden but don’t sell their yield, they can only be accorded amateur status. There are those professional amateurs like my friend Denny Bauman, who year in, year out, produces tomatoes that approximate the size of softballs, and then there are those folks like me, the rank amateurs.
Now, I’ve lived in my house for almost 40 years, and, years ago, my efforts growing the most popular gardening crop were better. While the house facing east has always had two stories, severely limiting the amount of sunshine the plants receive, there’s another sun inhibitor that has grown over time.
When one of my dughters was a second-grader, she brought home a small pine-tree seedling in a Dixie Cup to celebrate Arbor Day. After we planted it in the backyard, I secretly thought the chances were strong I’d inadvertently tromp on it while mowing the lawn. And, even if it did grow, I figured it would top out at maybe 6 or so feet. Well, that tree that was planted halfway between the garden and the back of the house is now about 15 feet higher than the house’s second story, which robs even more sun.
While the average minimum amount of sun tomatoes should have is six hours, the two stories’ worth of house, combined with Katie’s tree as well as the trees just west of the tomato plants, all combine to limit sunshine even on perfectly cloudless days to maybe two hours.
This year, there was one, a cherry-tomato plant, which burst forth to reach legendary status. As to why, my theory is its placement. You see, it occupied the northwest corner, which put it in the favorable position of being between my house and my neighbor’s ranch house. That gave it more sun, complementing my frequent watering.
The results were really eye-popping, as in a plant that grew taller than my 5’9” with branches that shot out in all directions, many of which I eventually had to take twine and tie to the cage to prevent their drooping to the ground after the blossoms morphed to developing tomatoes.
That plant was my crowning achievement in my growing career. Once the crop began ripening, starting in early August and continuing well into September, at least three times a week I would head back with my yellow plastic colander and pluck off at least 20 ripened cherries. The total yield before the plant finally reached its expiration date had to be several hundred.
The yield enlivened summer salads, made several quart bags of salsa for freezing and allowed me to give some away. Now, sadly, we’re not far from winter when, if I want cherry tomatoes, I’ll have to head to Meijer and plunk down my five bucks for a container nowhere close in terms of taste.
And so it went in the gardening department for this lifelong city dweller this summer. For someone who thought he saw once-upon-a-childhood time distant silo bins filled with bananas, I’m proud to say, I finally grew a plant worthy of superstar status.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected].