The Big Issue : Edition 502
THE BIG ISSUE 8 – 21 JANUARY 2016 27 I drove there straight away. I was like a kid in a candy store. At first I pretended to know what I was doing, but there were so many mixtures and so much information about growing tomatoes that I became confused. Finally I asked for assistance. I got it, and departed the hardware shop with: Two bags of extra special Tomato Mulch. $10. One bottle of Super Special Tomato Booster. $15. One can of anti-bug spray. $11. One roll of plant-tying string. $3. A bundle of 1500cm stakes. $12. One stainless steel garden trowel. $15. Total: $66. Despite spending much more than expected, I left the store on a high... Until I saw the parking ticket. The price of my tomato project suddenly went through the roof. Now it was $12 for the plants, $66 for hardware, plus a $150 parking fine, making a grand total of $228. But who cared? I was growing giant red tomatoes to please my homecoming Mary. At home I carted all my purchases into the backyard, placing them next to a bare patch of soil near Mary’s herb garden. This seemed like a good place. It was along the side fence, which caught the early morning sun. I dug a large hole in the empty space with my shiny new trowel. Then I emptied the mulch into the hole, dug out two smaller holes and very tenderly placed my precious tomato plants into the holes. After that I gave them their first of many drinks of water. After washing my green thumbs and dirty fingers, I sat down with a very satisfying glass of white wine, admiring my work and rereading all the product labels. The next day I awoke at daybreak to water the plants before the sun became too hot. Every day I would check for signs of the first flowers. As the plants grew, I tied them to the stakes. The young man in the hardware shop was right: they did grow to 1.5 metres. I was so pleased. These two plants could not have been better looked after if they were newborn babies! Coffee continued every morning. My ears would prick up whenever tomato- growing was discussed, but I kept mum. I’d seen the ridicule that could be applied to those who made statements about subjects they did not fully understand. I should wait until after I’d harvested my first crop before opening my mouth. Finally my first yellow flowers came... And then went – without leaving any fruit! I listened more intently and found that this problem was caused be the mortal enemy of all gardeners: possums. Someone casually volunteered the information that you could place netting over the plants to stop these midnight marauders. Another visit to the hardware shop: $10 for a net. But it worked. First I had plants full of yellow flowers. As they withered away, 93 little green tomatoes appeared. These little green cherubs were all mine. I was the one who had breathed life into them. With only seven days to go before Mary was due back, my mate Frank phoned, informing me that the fish were biting and inviting me to go fishing for five days, staying at his shack in Venus Bay. Well, what would you do? I could do the fishing trip and still be back home with two days to spare before Mary arrived home. This would give me plenty of time to clean the house – and the garden was well under control. How was I to know that the temperature would smash all records, well over 30 degrees for the next five days? Arriving home, I found a scene of disaster. The whole garden was nearly dead. And my tomatoes? The sun had killed all the leaves and left me with just some withered yellow stalks. Half-eaten and rotting tomatoes littered the ground. There were only three small tomatoes still attached to the plant. These I carefully removed and placed in the fridge. The next day my son dropped in, while I was out. He was hungry, so he made himself a sandwich – using three small tomatoes he found in the fridge. I’d pulled out the dead and withered tomato stalks and now, with the last three tomatoes gone, there was no evidence left to prove that I’d ever woken early, each and every morning for over a month, to tend my babies. There was nothing left to show where the $238 I’d spent to please Mary had gone. MARY ARRIVED HOME. The house was clean. She was extremely understanding about the heatwave and the state of her beloved garden. After she’d unpacked, we went down the street for coffee and a little bit of shopping. We talked about her trip and lots of other family things. Then she told me the very first thing she was going to do was make a batch of her very popular tomato chutney. She said she made her chutney at this time every year, as there was always a glut of tomatoes. She added that this was because all male gardeners seemed to think there was some magic in planting tomatoes on the same day, Cup Day. So all the plants bore fruit at the same time, 40 days later. After coffee, Mary went to the supermarket and bought a 9kg bag of very nice, large, red tomatoes – on special for $5. » Paddy Garritty is a Melbourne-based writer, thinker and (sometime) gardener.