Growing vegetables in the dirt

“Because I’m an old Southern woman and we’re supposed to wear funny looking hats and ugly clothes and grow vegetables in the dirt. Don’t ask me those questions. I don’t know why, I don’t make the rules!” —Louisa “Ouiser” Boudreaux, Steel Magnolias

I’m not really from the south. The small town where I was born (and where Dad had grown up, and several of my grandparents lived) was in the northwest corner of Colorado, but oil had been discovered there just before the Great Depression. When certain foreign powers suddenly needed to buy a lot of oil during the 1930s, the quickest way to get oil flowing out (and money flowing in) was to hire and move a whole bunch of experienced but out-of-work oil workers from the south. A few decades later, by the time I was born, nearly ever single person who lived in the town was either from the south, or their parents were. Even though my dad’s work caused us to move around between lots of small towns in Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Utah throughout my grade school years, our attendance of Southern Baptist Churches kept me in a sort of virtual south throughout.

Of course people who grew up in and live in all parts of the world grow vegetables in their yards. Yet, I can’t help but feel that the reason the last few years I have felt the need to at least grow a few tomato plants in containers, is because of the “rule” which the character in Steel Magnolias states. Even when I casually mention it, I don’t say “I’m growing a few tomato plants in containers.” No, what comes out of my mouth, if I don’t stop myself, is a drawl that sounds just like my Dad or Grandpa, “I got a couple tomatuhs growin’.”

When I was a kid, because we moved around a lot, we seldom had a vegetable garden of our own. But I spent at least part of every summer staying with either my grandparents or great-grandparents, and usually got drafted to help with theirs. Living in the city most of my adult life, I haven’t usually had a yard of my own to turn part of it over to growing vegetables. My gardening skills are spotty, at best, therefore.

In our current place, there is a small yard shared with the other households in our building. With the landlady’s permission, I’ve been planting flowers in two small beds in addition to several planters on the porch and a couple of hanging pots.

I started two years ago with one tomato. I had a large plastic pot that I had previously house a rubber tree indoors for many years. At the urging of a friend the previous year I’d tried to grow scallions in it, to no avail. I had a better luck with the tomato, getting about a handful of cherry tomatoes a week for the latter half of the summer and early fall. I spent a lot of time worrying about what the overnight temperatures were in the late spring and summer, moving the pot up against the brick house in the evening if I thought it would be too cool over night, then back out where they could get full sun during the day.

Last year I bought two more containers. I had two different breeds of cherry tomatoes and one grape tomato. I didn’t fret so much about temperatures in the beginning of the growing season. There was one point when we had a lot of sunny days, where I overdid it with the watering—when you over water, tomatoes start splitting open on the plant. I did not get three times as many tomatoes as the previous year. And the least productive plant was the grape tomato.

Just starting to produce!
Just starting to produce!
So this year I’m trying one cherry tomato, an heirloom yellow tomato that is supposed to produce small round 7-ish ounce tomatoes, and another that’s supposed to produce slighty smaller red oblong tomatoes. All three have started to flower, but only the cherry has started to show any fruit.

I’m looking forward to eating some fresh tomatoes. Three plants is probably our limit, since Michael doesn’t like tomatoes. I would have liked to get a few more than I did last year, but don’t want to get to the point where I’m needing to give a lot away.

Of course, I do get a craving for my grandma’s green tomato relish from time to time. Unfortunately I never learned her recipe, so if I did find myself with a bunch of green tomatoes, I’d be trying someone else’s recipe. And I’m not likely to have enough to experiment much if I did. So I probably ought not to think about that.

Of course, you only need a few small green tomatoes to fry up a mess of fried green tomatoes. And I know exactly how to make those.

Now that’s a taste of the south that I could really go for.

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