In 1963 Andy Williams released a Christmas album featuring the song The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. A delightful song celebrating the Christmas season, it became an immediate hit. While I enjoy Christmas as much as anyone, I must suggest that there are other times or seasons that offer equally rewarding experiences. Paramount among those is the time to enjoy vine ripe tomatoes fresh from the garden.
The varieties that I prefer require about 2 ½ months to begin producing, so if we get them planted as soon as the danger of frost is over, that puts early harvest about mid-June. Just about now!
I’ve used many tricks to try to get that first ripe tomato or first ripe watermelon as soon as possible. Despite my best efforts, I’ve found that all the planning, plotting, planting, and prevarication hold little sway with Mother Nature. You might tease her a bit, but for the most part, you have to wait until she’s ready to provide the bounty of the harvest.
Over the better part of two decades writing newspaper columns, I have often waxed poetically about the joys and virtues of "garden fresh, vine ripe tomatoes." I’m talking about large (a pound or more) juicy slicing tomatoes that will hang over the sides of the bread on a BLT sandwich. The little cherry tomatoes, Porters, Romas, Sweet 100’s, and especially the plastic tasting grocery store tomatoes, don’t even make the cut to be considered actual tomatoes. As an analogy of my distant un-politically correct past, I see them much like chewing a piece of gum in lieu of smoking a cigarette.
In spite of having a rather lengthy stretch of "feeling poorly" this year, I have managed to get my garden planted pretty much on schedule. With the invaluable assistance of grandkids, children, and devoted wife, we are currently enjoying some delightful "fruits" of our labor. The onions are splendid this year---1015Y Texas sweets as large as a grapefruit. Carrots, radishes, and cabbage (mostly for my wife) are beautiful, and the sweet corn is the prettiest I’ve seen in a decade. The squash, zucchini, and cucumbers are paying off like slot machines. Watermelons, cantaloupes, Israel melons, and okra are coming along nicely. I’m certain to have ripe melons by the Fourth of July---a goal we always had when I was growing up down on the "Pore Farm,".
As you may have noticed, there were a few omissions in my list of garden varieties. I deliberately didn’t plant any peas and beans this year, but among this year’s success stories, tomatoes were painfully omitted from the list. Yes, I planted quite a few. I’m embarrassed to admit how many, but there are a lot of them. My tomato woes began initially with their failure to set fruit this year. This is probably a function of weather conditions and quirks with certain varieties. Thankfully, I also planted several types. For years my "go to" favorite producer has been Celebrities, and as a result I always plant a good percentage of these. This year they are all dying---we’re talking dead as a mackerel. It is probably some sort of virus against which I am totally helpless. So far it appears that the BHN1021 and Tycoon hybrids seem resistant. Hopefully they will come through as my new "gold standards."
In the meantime, my neighbor down the road, Donna Kubicki, has taken pity on me and has been bringing me fresh tomatoes from her huge new greenhouse. Hopefully these will give me my lycopene fix until I start getting a few of my own. Hey, tomato junkies will take charity---any time of the year.
Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy Commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to email@example.com