I made a major tactical error a week ago. A Seed Savers Exchange catalog arrived, addressed to Mike. Which was not so bad, until I opened it.
Let’s start with the fact that I am both obsessive and certifiably insane. (Which, by the way, has nothing to do with my having a mental illness – there are plenty of people living with mental illness who are perfectly sane and reasonable folks. I am not one of them, however, which makes me very happy. 🙂 )
I’m also a foodie – the sort who actually notices and treasures the differences between the fifteen kinds of mandarin oranges you can get at the farmer’s market. A week or two I went up to a vendor at the Mountain View farmer’s market and said, “Excuse me, but are those really Satsuma mandarins? They look like Murcotts to me.” The farmer blinked and said, “Yes, you’re right! I lost my sign and haven’t gotten to making a new one. But you know, it’s been two weeks now and you’re the only one who’s noticed.”
Yeah, that kind of foodie.
Put that together with an empty garden and the kind of personality that makes 1500 dye samples just for the fun of it, and you have a recipe for complete and utter mayhem. (Especially if your spouse is the sort to have already planted 21 fruit trees on your property, just for fun.)
Now, this combination has actually happened before, and it wasn’t pretty. (Though it did delight the local food bank.) It started in 1998 or so, when I lamented to a friend that I couldn’t grow tomatoes in my apartment, since my balcony was in deep shade. She said, “Oh, I have some space in my back yard – why not plant some tomatoes there?”
So I planted five tomato plants there, and tended them happily. My friend started making noises halfway through the summer when the tomatoes devoured one entire side of the yard and started going after the house, but hey, they’re tomatoes! These things happen.
And then my friend threw a party, and at the party, I said to one of her friends, “It’s really nice of Carolyn to let me use her back yard, but I keep wanting to try more varieties of tomatoes, and there really isn’t enough space for more than three or four.”
Carla said, “Well, we’ve got a house in Atherton, and we’ve got a half-acre back yard we aren’t using. Would you like to garden there?”
And, next thing you know, I was out there farming an 1800-square foot garden. The soil was solid clay – I actually made a coil pot out of it – so I ordered 5 cubic yards of compost, which arrived in a small dump truck. That wasn’t enough to help much, so I ordered another 5 cubic yards. When that wasn’t enough, I decided to up the ante and order 10 cubic yards. This arrived in a large dump truck, which had trouble with some overhead power lines, so it had to dump 10 cubic yards of compost at the top of their driveway. I spent the rest of the day moving, as they say, “the whole nine yards” – plus one! into the garden.
Then I got a rototiller and turned the compost under. Now I had good soil, and it was time to plant! But what to plant?
Being a foodie, of course, I wanted to grow things for flavor. And obviously the best way to find out what tasted best would be to plant one of everything. Especially tomatoes, because as we all know, “There’s only two things that money can’t buy – and that’s true love and home grown tomatoes!”
(Also covered by John Denver: )
So, in that spirit, I decided to grow a few tomato varieties. Me being me, of course, “a few” translated to “83”. (Because anything worth doing is worth overdoing.)
Sadly, this predated the days of digital cameras, so (unbelievably) I don’t have photos of Tien’s tomato farm. But it was huge, and full not only of tomatoes but other veggies – eight kinds of green beans, three kinds of lima beans, four kinds of potatoes, five kinds of garlic, and, uh, other stuff. I can’t remember all of it…but you get the idea. At the height of tomato season, I was not only canning several gallons of tomatoes every week but bringing them to work AND donating about 100 pounds of tomatoes (and about a 30-gallon bag full of green beans, plus misc. other stuff) to Second Harvest Food Bank every week. (I’m pretty sure they thought I was nuts, but they weren’t complaining!)
Eventually I started training for AIDS Lifecycle, which precluded gardening. But ever since, I’ve been careful to stay away from gardening in much the same way that alcoholics try to avoid alcohol completely – there’s just too much potential for things to get out of hand.
But dang, there I was, opening that seed catalog.
I managed to stay at least reasonably restrained, only ordering five kinds of tomatoes, three kinds of peppers (egged on by Mike, who likes peppers more than I do), and a beautiful, multicolored dwarf popcorn that we’d grown before and which popped well straight off the cob.
Okay, I lied. I also ordered three kinds of peas, three kinds of lima beans, soybeans, this thing called “strawberry spinach,” a butternut squash, an heirloom parsnip, heirloom carrots, and two kinds of melons. But still, it was more or less under control.
Then I had lunch with my friend Linda, who is married to my ex-husband, Rob. Linda and I were chatting about gardening, and we got on the subject of tomatoes. She said, “Yeah, we’ve got a LOT of tomato varieties – over 100 of them.”
I sat bolt upright and said, “OMG!! Those are MY TOMATO SEEDS!!”
Rob and I are on more or less friendly terms (though we haven’t seen each other in over a decade), and one of his hobbies is botany, so when I went off to Southeast Asia, I gave him my complete seed collection. So he and Linda had seeds to all the tomatoes I’d grown. Including my very favorite tomato, which was called “Fruity Mix” and was developed by legendary plant breeder Tim Peters. Unfortunately, Tim’s company, Peters Seed and Research, had gone out of business, and seeds were no longer available. I had searched for it and turned up nothing.
So I asked Linda if they still had the seeds for “Fruity Mix”. They did! She is bringing me some next week and I am SUPER excited to be getting them. And I will save seed from this plant, for sure!
Unfortunately, that made me wonder whether there were other tomatoes related to “Fruity Mix”, perhaps a descendant with larger fruit. “Fruity Mix” is a currant tomato, producing fruit about half an inch across. They are the most delicious tomatoes I’ve ever tasted, but also quite tedious to pick. So I did a Google search, and found that there is a variety called “Sweet Orange II” that is described as a descendant of “Fruity Mix”.
So of course I had to order that. And then I had to poke around the rest of the site to see what else they had…and I was really restrained, really! I only ordered five more tomato varieties (including one called “Dancing with Smurfs” – how could one resist!).
And the seed catalog season is only just beginning….I think I’m doomed.
I’ll leave you with this ominous harbinger of the garden avalanche to come…yes, the peach trees are already blooming! (And so will most of the other trees, in the next week or two.)
P.S. I am THE LUCKIEST KLUTZ EVER! It took ten days for the swelling in my hand to go down enough for further evaluation, but the folks at the orthopedic sports clinic examined it and told me that, astonishingly, there was no damage to bone, muscle, or tendon – it was just a giant bruise. It’s about 95% better now, and I can do most normal activities with it, including typing. Hurray!