LEARNING TO USE THE ARTSTUDIO APP

The CBC was running an on-line contest requiring entrants to produce ‘mash-ups’ (images that combined different pictures) that incorporated the logo commemorating the 75th anniversary of the CBC. This logo, consisting of a red, stylized, sphere (the CBC’s basic logo) plus a stylized ’75’, copied and pasted from the CBC contest webpage, is below. As you will see, the image provided on the webpage also incorporated two short captions under the ’75’, one in English and the other its French translation (or visa-versa, depending on your perspective)–although it wasn’t clear from the rules if the captions had to be included in the mash-ups.

The prize was something I could use, a printer that would work with my new iPad; but, more importantly, entering this contest would provide me with an incentive to figure out how to use the iPad app, ArtStudio, that I had just downloaded and that seemed to have so much potential. Also, it wasn’t difficult for me to come up with an initial basic theme for my submissions (one could enter as many times as one wanted), so I could get right to work, and have at least something ready by the deadline of September 25th, only about two weeks away.

With the stylized red sphere as one of the logo’s central components, I doubt very much that I was the only entrant who submitted pictures involving tomatoes. Looking at that tomato-red object, with all the sliced-up pieces radiating outward, like a display that could be the topping of a fancy salad, or part of a plate of crudités, one can’t help but think of tomatoes. Or maybe not. At any rate, my basic theme, at least for my initial submissions, was tomatoes.

My first effort that I felt was anywhere good enough to warrant submitting didn’t make a strong enough visual connection between the ‘tomatoishness’ of the CBC sphere and actual tomatoes. A part of the problem was that the picture of tomatoes upon which I superimposed the CBC ‘image’ (the whole works, including the original captions), was a picture of tomatoes growing in my garden, that were then, even in early September, still completely green. (My yellow tomatoes, from the low-lying rambler plants, were much further along; but a picture of bright yellow tomatoes just wouldn’t have fit.) I added some red to the green tomatoes using the spray-paint tool in ArtStudio, eventually getting a somewhat natural, ripening, if not yet entirely ripe, colouration for the tomatoes, and was proud enough of that little success to use the following image, with colour-enhanced tomatoes, as my first entry for the contest.

Still, the only way viewers of this image were likely to connect the red CBC sphere and the actual tomatoes, if they connected them at all, was conceptually–not visually. It wouldn’t have helped much if the tomatoes had been fully ripe.

My next submission incorporated the same background picture, but I used the colourize tool in ArtStudio to boost the red in the entire picture (tomatoes, leaves and even dirt). The result was weird, and perhaps even somewhat frightening; but there also was something captivating to me about all that ‘ripeness’, achieved instantaneously. In considering whether I would submit the image, I realized that, if I were to do so, new captions would be required. (Mutant bright red tomato plants wasn’t really something to be ‘celebrated’.) The overall impression the picture gave me of ‘ripeness’ was a notion that could be associated with the 75th anniversary of the CBC, since 75 is an age commonly regarded as “a ripe old age.” (In Canada, a young country, this seems to be true not only for human beings but also for our national institutions, like the CBC.) My new caption, in English, was “Ripe for the Picking” and, in French, “Mûr Pour Être Exploité.” (There was nothing in the rules of the contest about not changing the captions.)

Wanting to use a new caption for my second mash-up meant having to learn how to insert type in an image using ArtStudio. The basic insertion of type is very intuitive in ArtStudio, and I figured that out quite readily. (It was wonderful to have all those type faces from which to choose.) My problem was the French accents. I should have given the designers of ArtStudio, and the designers of the iPad in general, more credit for their awareness of the needs of users of languages other than English, and done more research at the outset. (Several weeks later, after I had purchased a blue-tooth keyboard and was doing quite a bit of typing that included some French words, again with accents, I did a Google search and learned that there is a very elegant solution for creating French accents with the iPad, that works across all the different apps–including ArtStudio–that doesn’t even require an external keyboard. This solution is based on the special functions of certain keys on the iPad’s ‘pop-up’ keyboard.) When I was creating my mash-ups, I did it the hard way, hand-drawing the accents with my stylus. It got a little easier when I figured out that, when using ArtStudio, one can enlarge the image upon which one is working to such an extent that any irregularities in hand-drawn accents, or whatever, seem less irregular when one returns the image to its normal size. But I never did get those accents entirely right.

Soon after I submitted that second entry, it struck me that I needed to use just ripe, red, tomatoes (no colourized dirt and so on), as the background picture of my mash-up. As proud as I was of my own crop, if I waited for those tomatoes to fully ripen–and even if they did eventually turn red and not some other colour–it would be too late. I made a special trip to a local fruit and vegetable store, carrying my iPad in my tote, just to take some pictures of red tomatoes, one of which I hoped I would be able to use as a background picture.

Luckily for me, one of the display boxes containing tomatoes, otherwise full of very suitable, ripe, red, locally-grown, tomatoes contained one anomalous, green, tomato. The idea of incorporating in my picture a tomato of a contrasting colour hadn’t even occurred to me until I saw that one green tomato, and realized, in a Eureka moment of insight, its graphic usefulness for the image. The CBC sphere could be superimposed over that green tomato and not be lost amongst all the red tomatoes. Also, having that one green tomato in the batch, contrasting with all the red tomatoes, reinforced the idea of the ripening process. I composed my photograph accordingly, with the green tomato where I figured the CBC sphere would fall. Fortunately, there were very few customers in the store that afternoon, and the tomatoes were far removed from the front counter where the clerk was stationed. The process of taking out my iPad and actually snapping the photograph took less than a minute.

My next submission for the contest consisted simply of the elements I’d used in the top layer of my last submission, superimposed on this new background picture–with those French accents in the French caption cleaned up a bit, using the enlargement trick. It was an improvement over the last submission, but there was yet one more step involved in creating an image, based on the tomato theme, with which I was satisfied.

I was getting comfortable with the type tool in ArtStudio, and decided to use it to give ‘labels’ to the tomatoes, reminiscent of the little white labels that are often on tomatoes one buys in stores. For these ‘labels’, I used just words, in English and French, in various type faces, indicating various offerings of the CBC–with the notable exception of any French offerings that included any accents. Even without French accents, it was quite a chore labelling all of those tomatoes, especially since I still didn’t have a keyboard to use with my iPad on which I could actually type. I did, however, quite like the result.

Besides liking the result, I liked having gone through the process of starting with a crude idea and going through various revisions, and even a Eureka moment, to produce something that gave me aesthetic and intellectual satisfaction. It wasn’t a wonderful image (the actual tomatoes lost too much of their original colour when I merged the two layers, and I still didn’t know how that could be fixed); but I was basically content.

The image seemed good enough to consider the possibility that I might win that printer so, after submitting my fourth entry, I read over the rules for the contest. I should have more carefully read the rules earlier because, as it turned out, the winner was to be selected based on a random draw and not based on the quality of submissions. I wasn’t terribly disappointed, though, because my mistaken belief that quality did matter in this contest pushed me to acquire some skill in using ArtStudio, and to carry that creative process to a satisfying conclusion.

Since there were still a few days left to submit entries for the contest and since, as I now realized, quantity counted more than quality if one wanted to win that printer, departing from the tomato theme, I quickly threw together a few more images.

One of these images, that I quite liked, I titled, “Mansbridge in the Moon.” It incorporated three basic elements; the CBC stylized sphere, the colour of which I adjusted so it would look more like a moon; a photograph of the downtown Vancouver skyline taken from a hill near where I live overlooking the downtown area; and a head shot of Peter Mansbridge, the anchor on the CBC national evening TV news show, copied and pasted from the CBC website. For this image, I completely abandoned the captions and the number 75.  Mansbridge isn’t that old–although, as my mother observed when I showed her this image, he is getting on.

Another image in this group that I found interesting, although not entirely satisfying, incorporated the same background photograph I used for “Mansbridge in the Moon,” but used a sunrise motif instead of a moon motif. This time, I kept the ’75’, at least my version of it, but again didn’t use any captions. Something I did like very much about this image, that I titled “CBC Sunrise in Vancouver,” was the colour, including the interplay of the three primary colours of magenta, yellow and blue, and the tomato-red borders around the magenta bits. (It just happened when I selected a merge option I hadn’t previously tried.) I could have taken this image further, but it was already the 24th of September, so I just submitted it as is, and left it at that.

It turns out I didn’t win the printer, but I did learn some of the basics of using ArtStudio–and started to feel some creative juices flowing in me that I hadn’t felt for some time.

 

THE CURIOUS CASE OF MY RED, RIPE, TOMATOES

In the latter part of September, around the time that I was working on my final entries for the CBC contest, I lost hope in the green tomatoes from the taller plants ever turning red (or any colour other than green) before we had an early cold snap and the tomatoes froze.  (This happened last year with the two little tomatoes that grew on the single tomato plant that Mum kept on the back deck last year.)  I plucked from the plants a couple of tomatoes that seemed to me to be the ripest (they were not only large but also were starting to develop translucent skin, even though that skin was still completely green) to see if sitting on the windowsill in the kitchen might bring out some red in them, just as sitting there for a few days had brought out the yellow in my first ripe rambler.

I was operating under the assumption that, because tomato plants growing in the garden need lots of sunshine, an extra-strong dose of sunshine–stronger at least than the plants growing in the garden generally received since, for most of the day, they were in the shadow of that cedar hedge–would hasten the ripening process of the tomatoes.  Also, the process had worked for that little yellow tomato.

Within a few days, these tomatoes did indeed start to look a little flushed and, within a week or so, they were bright red–almost as red as the tomatoes in the picture on the labels for my “Early Girls.”  After this method proved successful, I brought a few more green tomatoes indoors each couple of days, selecting tomatoes that seemed most ready for this final stage of ripening, that seemed impossible to achieve outdoors.  (I continued with this process through to late October.)

Strangely, according to what I subsequently read on the Internet about the ripening process of tomatoes, this should never have happened–or, should I say, probably should never have happened.  I was curious about why my not-so-early “Early Girls” had turned red much more readily off the vine than on the vine, so I did a Google search, which led me to general information about the ripening process of tomatoes.  According to various, seemingly reputable, sources, red tomatoes turn red (and yellow tomatoes turn yellow, and so on) not because of sunshine but, rather, because, as the final stage of their ripening process, tomatoes produce the gaseous substance, ethylene, that turns their skins red (or yellow, or whatever). Following–sort of–from this basic idea, the most commonly recommended method for hastening the ripening process is not to give tomatoes lots of light but, quite the contrary, to cover them up (some sources recommend putting them in brown paper bags) and then to leave them in the dark for a few days.  This is said to increase the production of ethylene which, in turn, turns the skins of the tomatoes the colours they were intended to be at the ripe stage.  (Oddly, some sources even recommend stuffing a banana in a brown paper bag along with the tomatoes, since bananas apparently produce a great deal of ethylene.)

So why did my green “Early Girls” turn bright red sitting on the windowsill for a few days in, at least during the daytime, bright sunlight?  The yellow tomato was already somewhat yellow before I put it on the windowsill, and perhaps just needed a little ‘aging’, that could just as easily have happened on the vine, but the “Early Girls” were still completely green when I brought them indoors. 

Maybe the answer–or at least part of the answer–is that the tomatoes were placed between the windowpane and curtains, which together created a relatively enclosed space.  During the day, those curtains were just net curtains–although relatively densely-woven net curtains. But, at night, heavy drapes were drawn over the net curtains, creating an even more closed-off shroud, in which ethylene may have reached a relatively high concentration, bringing out the colour of the tomatoes.  

But what about all the light that those tomatoes on the windowsill received during the day?  I wonder now if, despite the advice provided by many Internet sources that plucked green tomatoes should be left in the dark to complete their ripening process, this advice is wrong.  While it may be true that, once tomatoes have been removed from the plants, extra light isn’t going to hasten their ripening process, placing them in darkness also may not hasten their ripening process, unless that darkness is associated with an enclosed space (as, for example, inside a brown paper bag).  Leaving them out in the sunshine may actually work just as well, as long as they are in the sunshine but also in an enclosed space–as they would be between curtains and a windowpane, facing out towards the sun. 

And I still suspect that sunshine may actually help, at least to some degree.  There seems to be an experiment here for someone who is scientifically inclined.  Or can someone out there already provide me with evidence that I’m wrong?

And no, I did not use ArtStudio on the above two pictures–one taken from the windowpane side and the other taken from the curtain side.

 

A KEYBOARD FOR MY IPAD

On September 27th, I purchased a bluetooth keyboard to use with my iPad, and started to turn my attention to learning how to use Pages, the wordprocessing app for the iPad that I had installed earlier but still hadn’t used much.

I started to write about my experiences over the past few months growing tomatoes, initially thinking I would spend just a couple of days on the project, while I was figuring out Pages.

Although most of my iPad time was now spent writing, I didn’t stop taking photographs of my tomatoes, and creating images using ArtStudio, that incorporated my photographs of tomatoes.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

 

 

Because I won my iPad, I was probably much less savvy when I got my iPad about the capabilities of iPads than are most new iPad owners.  Between the time I learned I had won the device and when it was delivered, besides paying more attention to the print and TV ads for iPads that were then running, I did some basic research on-line and visited an electronics store a couple of times to look at iPad accessories. (I knew I was going to need to buy at least a case and a keyboard.)  But I didn’t go through the deliberation process that most purchasers of iPads are likely to go through before making their purchase, researching various iPad features and capabilities first, to see if it is worth it to them to buy one.

I didn’t even know that my iPad had a camera, until after I got it home after having it “set up” at the Apple store, and started to play with the device off-line.  (The original iPad didn’t have a camera, but the iPad II, which is what I have, does have one.)  Trying out the camera (I took just a couple of face-shots of myself–and thumb-shots) and exploring the pre-installed Notes app, which included trying out the pop-up keyboard, were basically all I could do with my new iPad off-line, until I had connected it to a WiFi network and installed some other apps with off-line functionality, and downloaded some digitalized content.

The next day, I visited the local public library, that provides free WiFi access and, after using the iPad to register the device itself and to register for an iTunes account, I started to install and download. Besides iBooks, for downloading books to read off-line, I installed several apps that would give me access to the iPad versions of the various news and current-events websites I commonly visited on computers and on my cell-phone.  These included apps for Vancouver’s Sun and Province newspapers, and for the Canadian national newspaper, The Globe and Mail.  I also installed the news apps for CBC (the Canadian, national, publicly-funded, broadcaster) and CTV (a Canadian, national, private, television network).  In addition, although it had never previously been one of my regular news sources, because I happened to come across its app while browsing in the AppsStore and because it was often mentioned on American television, I installed the app for The Huffington Post, the American on-line newspaper, that also can be downloaded for free on iPads for off-line reading.  While browsing, I also lucked upon a free app for the NFB (Canada’s National Film Board), that enables iPad users to borrow films from the NFB’s on-line library, and downloaded that.  (Probably, a similar service has been available to owners of regular computers for some time; but when I’ve used computers on-line in the past–usually public computers that give you only an hour or two, or at work–I generally haven’t had the time to look at films.  My cell-phone can’t handle films, even very short ones, although some fancier phones may have the capacity.)  During this early period, I also installed the word-processing app, Pages; but it wasn’t until I purchased a keyboard, at the end of September, that I really started to use Pages.  (I did try, early on, to create a résumé using Pages and the pop-up keyboard, and decided that, for the time being, I’d stick with public computers, with real keyboards, for résumés.)  And, yes, Janice, I do remember downloading the Skype app, and you helping me try it out (you even washed your hair for the occasion); but, after trying it a few times, I put Skype on the back-burner, to be used only if I got WiFi access at home–and for new hairdos.

Using the apps I’d installed that were for downloading, as well as downloading through iTunes, in those first couple of weeks, I was able to get some interesting content onto my iPad that I could use off-line.  I, of course, downloaded for off-line reading current issues of various newspapers.  (It was nice to get the Globe and Mail, which I usually bought at least on weekends, for free–at least for the first month.)  I also downloaded a couple of free digital books using iBooks, including Pride and Prejudice and Animal Farm, classics that would be worth revisiting at some point and that I could now use at least to experiment with iBooks.  (Many classics, that are no longer under copy-write protection, can be downloaded for free using iBooks.)  Turning to music, my most exciting discovery was the free musical podcasts of the NPR (National Public Radio), the American counterpart of the CBC’s radio division. Among the NPR podcasts I downloaded was a 2009, full-length, concert by Joan Baez at the Newport Folk Festival, and even a three-song “mini-concert” by Adele, including her recent hit, “Chasing Pavements.”  The first film from the NFB that I downloaded was the ten-minute NFB classic, “A Chairy Tale,” a 1957 collaboration between Norman McLaren and Claude Jutra, that combines live-action with various animation techniques.  (It’s the film about a chair that refuses to be sat upon by a very young Claude Jutra–who went on to direct feature films, including Mon Oncle Antoine.)

I appreciated having ready access to all of this content, and saving myself a few bucks on newspapers; however, at this early stage, I wasn’t thrilled by my new iPad, as I was to be later on–even before getting WiFi at home.  In fact, I was even starting to wonder if all the time it took me to figure out how to use my iPad, and to install and download, and to read all those digital newspapers, was really worth it.  If I had the money to buy one, I doubted that I would have done so.

The problem was that, initially, I related to my iPad as basically just a ‘consumer’.  That is to say, virtually all the apps I installed over those first few weeks were for gaining access to material available on-line that was created by others.  I acknowledge I did have a great deal of choice, even as a very frugal consumer, regarding the material I would access, and I enjoyed much of it.  But I was starting to feel overwhelmed by all of this digital content created by others.  If I’d done more research initially–and perhaps if I’d been less strongly influenced by all the marketing for iPads that was being done, at least in Canada, during the summer (the iPad II had come out only recently)–I would have known that there were other ways of relating to an iPad, that were more appropriate to my needs.  (The iPad marketing I remember from the summer mostly put the iPad user in the role of consumer, using iBooks, watching videos, and so on.  The fall marketing campaign has put greater emphasis on educational and creative uses of iPads.)

The first inkling I had that I could become a ‘producer’ with this device, and not just the ‘consumer’ I had been up to that point, was on Labour Day (September 5), when the public libraries were all closed, and I visited a neighbourhood coffee-shop that offered ‘free’ WiFi, so that I could use my iPad on-line that day.  After I’d been there for a short time, doing more installing and downloading, a man in his late-fifties or early-sixties, who looked like he wore a business suit to work although today he was dressed in jeans and a casual jacket, approached me.  He commented on my iPad and then pulled out his own from a pocket inside his jacket and, without me inviting him, sat down beside me.

My mistake was telling him that my iPad was virtually brand new, to which he responded that he had owned his iPad since the original version first came out.  (I was pretty certain he had bought his and hadn’t resorted to a contest.  I never did tell him I won mine.)  He then asked me what apps I had installed to date and, after my short overview, he launched himself into a run-down of dozens of apps he had on his iPad–not only naming the apps and describing their basic functions but also opening up many of them on his iPad to show me how they worked.  In the guise of offering suggestions about apps I could install on my new iPad, he was just showing off.  He had all the news and current-events apps I had, plus many, many, more of that ilk.  Also, oddly, several (at least a half-dozen) of the apps he suggested related to time management and personal organization.  Although it’s possible it was because he led a very hectic life that this was such a high priority to him, as his lecture proceeded, I concluded it was more because he was obsessed with organization, and with control.

Despite most of his suggestions being of no interest to me, a couple of them were interesting–and one, in particular, was more than just interesting.  This guy from the coffee-shop introduced me to Noteshelf, an app that can be used to create customized digital ‘notebooks’, with many of the basic characteristics of the paper notebooks used usually by school kids, but in a digital form.  (This app is probably very popular among students who used iPads in their educational programs.)  What was most interesting to me about Noteshelf was that, in his demonstration of it, he selected a red colored ‘pen’ from the wide assortment of digitalized coloured felt-pens available in the app and then, using his Pogo stylus, created a freehand, wavy, line across the page–sort of like this:

It was only a simple, freehand, coloured line, but I was thoroughly delighted.  This simple line made me realize, for the first time, that, with my iPad, I could create and not be just a consumer of other people’s work.  I commented to the coffee-shop iPad expert that maybe I would use the app to make some Christmas cards this year (in the past, I commonly made my own Christmas cards), and he seemed to think I was joking–although I wasn’t.

Within the next couple of days, I had installed Noteshelf, bought myself a stylus (not essential for drawing on an iPad, but it’s useful for certain strokes), and done some experimenting.  But, once I started trying to create ‘art’ using my iPad, I could see that the possibilities for creating interesting images using Noteshelf are very limited–unless you’re really, really, into doodling.  When I was once again on-line, I used the search word ‘art’ in the AppsStore to see if there were any dedicated graphics arts apps available that provide more sophisticated tools for creating graphic art using the iPad.  I came across ArtStudio, that costs only $2.99, and that is packed with as many tools as good graphics programs for regular computers–that I recall, from many years ago when I was interested in such matters, costing a whole lot more than $2.99. (Perhaps that’s no longer the case.)

Maybe the Apple marketing people had it right. It’s people like the guy from the coffee-shop who will predominate among the initial purchasers of relatively expensive, novel, gadgets, like iPads (and iPad IIs), if only because they have sufficient money to buy them.  Such people are likely to be more interested in relating to iPads as ‘consumers’ than as ‘producers’.  The artists, the students, and the contest winners, come later.

AUGUST 2011

October 15, 2011

The weather dramatically improved here in Vancouver in August, and my tomato plants, of both varieties, made dramatic progress.

Each day I checked on the plants and, each day, the plants of the taller variety seemed to have grown a couple of inches, to the point where I needed new sticks for these plants. Before going to the trouble of making a trip to a lumberyard, I tried scavenging for something I could use, poking around the corner when I was crossing alleyways as I walked along city sidewalks, and even venturing onto a couple of construction sites, when no one was there, to see if there were any scraps of wood left lying around that I might use as tomato sticks. But no luck. Then, one afternoon, as I was walking home from the local shops, I came across a slender tree limb, about five feet long, that apparently had fallen from an overhead tree. I carried it home in one hand, with my grocery bag in the other, feeling quite proud of my find. Unfortunately, as I discovered when I tried it out, the limb was too brittle to work well as a tomato stick (it started to crack when I tried pushing it into the ground)–and I needed at least four long sticks, and not just one. (Each of the two tall plants had grown a couple of main shoots, each of which needed a support.)

That afternoon, after giving up on tree limbs, I came up with my solution. I had almost a full roll of picture-hanging wire, left over from a long-ago picture-hanging project, and used it to lash together the two-foot dowels that, up to now, had sufficed as the plants’ supports, creating some nearly four-foot sticks. A couple of the two-foot dowels that I used I took from the shorter, rambling, plants, that didn’t need the dowels for support–and that, at this stage, looked like tomato plants, albeit short ones, even without sticks jutting out of the ground beside them. The lashed dowels were surprisingly strong, and worked like a charm.

My mother was a little funny about me removing the two-foot dowels from the shorter plants. I had mentioned to her, as soon as I discovered it myself, that the shorter plants were a special ‘rambling’ variety, and were never going to be very tall–and it should have been apparent just from looking at them now that they were never going to be tall enough to needs sticks, of any length. After I made it clear to her that I wasn’t going to replace the dowels I had removed from the shorter plants, she asked me if she could tend one of the shorter plants through the growing season–which presumably included erecting a staff beside ‘her’ plant forthwith.

Maybe I should have let her tend one of the ramblers, just to humour her. She had, after all, inspired me to buy tomato plants this year, to replace those foxgloves, by buying that single tomato plant last year. But since there were only four plants in a small bed, it was a very impractical idea. I couldn’t imagine me watering and fertilizing around the single plant that she would tend, or her watering and fertilizing (if she chose to do so) around the three plants I would tend–although, come to think of it, it probably wouldn’t be much different than the two of us working together in the kitchen. More importantly, these were my tomato plants. Mum had her turn in the past growing tomatoes–and by no means only that single plant last year with the two little tomatoes.

When Mum and her “man friend” (her term), Henry, were about halfway through their twenty-year relationship, Henry bought a small house on a half-acre lot down near the Fraser River, on prime agricultural land. About half the lot was devoted to a vegetable garden, for which Mum had primary responsibility (although, usually, she was there only on weekends). Mum recounted to me when I was growing my tomatoes that she had grown up to fifteen plants a year in that vegetable garden. (For most of that period, I was living in Montreal and Toronto, and visited Henry’s house, and her vegetable garden, only a couple of times.) When I asked her where she got the sticks to prop up her tomato plants in that garden, she told me Henry got the sticks for her–so maybe the tomato sticks, and lack of tomato sticks, in our garden reminded her of Henry, and a lack of Henry. (He died about fifteen years ago.) Or maybe it’s just that it’s harder to deal with novelty as one gets older, especially in areas in which one previously was regarded as an expert. (I was excited about getting an iPad; but also, as I started to prepare for the arrival of my iPad by doing a little Internet research, nervous.) Although she was wrong about my ramblers needing sticks, Mum did provide me with some good advice, based on her years of experience growing tomatoes, about minimizing the amount of foliage on my plants, so that more of the plants’ nutrients would be available for the tomatoes, themselves.

I must have been doing something right because, even before my iPad had arrived, not only were the taller plants turning into giants but, also, the ramblers were showing clear signs of progress. The tomatoes on the ramblers remained very small, the largest being about an inch-and-a-half in diameter; however, some of these small tomatoes already were starting to change colour from green to, well, something else.

It wasn’t clear to me at first to what colour they were changing. I expected red tomatoes, but these little tomatoes were looking very yellowish. Impatient to find out what was going on, I plucked the tomato from the ramblers that seemed furthest along and placed it on a windowsill in the kitchen to hasten its ripening process. Sure enough, within a couple of days, it had turned a bright yellow. These definitely were not the red tomatoes I believed I was getting, based on the picture on the labels for these plants.

I referred back to the labels. The tomatoes pictured on the labels for the ramblers were definitely red–although not as red as the tomatoes pictured on the labels for the other tomatoes. It certainly wasn’t the vivid yellow of my first ripe tomato.

The full name for the ramblers, which I previously hadn’t registered, was “Rambling Gold Stripe.” The name did suggest the possibility of some yellow, at least a goldish sort of yellow; but the picture did no such thing. It was probably an error in the production of the labels–bad photo-finishing or the wrong picture for the labels. Or, just possibly, the labels were right but my plants were ‘wrong’. that is to say, maybe most “Rambling Gold Stripe” tomatoes looked exactly like that picture, but my plants were anomalous, like that eleven-foot foxglove plant that grew in our garden two years ago. Maybe–but probably not. (If this were the case, both of the ramblers would have to have been rare anomalies, since the tomatoes growing on the two plants were the same.)

While I was very surprised to get bright yellow tomatoes on some of my tomato plants, I didn’t mind at all. If I was going to be growing my own tomatoes, it was more interesting to be growing a variety of tomatoes that was new to me, that was unlike what I would usually buy. (This kind of novelty is easy enough for me to deal with.) The yellow ones were very tasty, too, as I learned when I ate the first tomato I had grown myself. It had a slightly more acidic, citrusy, lemony, taste than the tomatoes I was used to–and only a blind taste test (which I never tried) would clarify how much of that was due to their colour.

As for the taller plants, by mid-August, they were definitely tall, well over the height of my lashed sticks. They also bore many relatively large tomatoes, up to three inches in diameter, as well as many more smallish ones. But even the relatively large tomatoes were still completely green and obviously not nearly ripe. They only chance they had of fully ripening was if we had an abnormally sunny and hot late-August and September. I wasn’t optimistic. The only food I could think of that used green tomatoes was green relish, and I’d never liked it.

The iPad arrived around the fifteenth of August, but it took me at least a week to even get it up and running. A problem with winning an iPad, and probably any other hi-tech device, is that you don’t have a store where you bought the thing to go running to if you experience any technical difficulties, or if you just have questions. Any new iPad has to be “set up” (the term used in the minimal instructions that come with the device) before it is capable of doing anything, and this requires the use of a computer connected to the Internet. I didn’t have a home computer. I might have resorted to using my work computer if I had been working at the time, but I wasn’t. (Recently, I had been laid off from a job I had held for the past five years, where I had my own office, and my own computer. When I had that job, I sometimes squeezed in small personal projects on my work computer, so not having a computer at home didn’t make me feel particularly deprived. I also owned a cellphone with basic Internet capabilities.) Also, I couldn’t get the iPad “set up” using the public computers I sometimes used at the local public library. (Theoretically, it should have worked; but I and a couple of librarians who helped me with this matter never could get through the entire process on those computers.) One of the librarians eventually suggested I visit the nearest Apple store where, she believed, based on her own good experiences as a customer there, they would be happy to help me out.

It took me a few more days to get to the store, because I was doing a great deal of reading at the time, in preparation for attending a special Book Club session organized by the CBC–or Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. (I’ll save the details for my reading diary.) When I eventually did get to the store with my new iPad, I explained to a young man working there that I had won the iPad and needed some help getting it “set up.” He asked me how I had won it–which I think was mainly because he wanted to be sure I hadn’t brought in a stolen iPad. After I provided him with an answer with which he was satisfied (I can’t imagine an iPad thief, even one with a good vocabulary, making up a story about winning a vocabulary contest to account for their new acquisition), he was very helpful, connecting my iPad to one of the store’s computers to make the device at least operational.

JULY 2011

October 8, 2011

June and July were abnormally cool and overcast in Vancouver this year.  It wasn’t especially wet–maybe not even as wet as usual for this city known for its rain–but it was grey, day after day after day.  For those first few months, the tomatoes’ progress was slow. 

The plants were in the ground for almost a month before clear differences between the two varieties started to emerge.  The two plants of the ‘early’ variety were taller than the other two plants, which, at first, I assumed was just because the taller plants were off to an early, or fast, start, and the others would eventually catch up.  But there was more to it than that.  When, curious about this disparity between the two varieties, I got around to reading in detail the information on the labels of the shorter plants, I learned they were of a ‘rambler’ variety.  With respect to tomatoes, as I could see from the plants,  this meant low-lying and spread out instead of growing straight up, like the tomato plants that are most common in local gardens.  This rambling growth pattern may have been an adaptation to this variety originally growing in a relatively dry climate, as were the smaller leaves on the ramblers.  (It was probably only after I read Barry Estabrook’s recently-published book, Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed our Most Alluring Fruit,  that is mainly a condemnation of commercial tomato-growing in Florida but that also contains various tidbits about tomatoes in general, that I made the inference about my ramblers and a dry climate.  According to my reading diary, I finished reading this book on August 5.)

Despite the differences in the varieties, little yellow flowers started to appear on both varieties at roughly the same time.  By around the end of July, some of the first little tomatoes were starting to appear, on both kinds of plants, from under their yellow sheathes.  The first time I discerned tomatoes–albeit very, very, small tomatoes–on the plants, I counted a total of three.  A few days later, whether it was because I was searching more intently or whether it was because, in that short time, several more had matured to the point of being visible, or both, it was eight, and, only a few days after that, it was thirteen.  I started to lose count around the twenty mark.  However, despite their relatively vast number, with the very poor tomato-growing weather we had through June and now well into July, I was beginning to fear that none of my little tomatoes would ever completely mature, and that I’d end up, by the end of the growing season, with only lots of little green tomatoes–a greater quantity than those that Mum, and to a very limited extent, I, had reaped last year from that one tomato plant, but just as small and unripe. 

According to the brief notation in my reading diary–the only other kind of diary I’ve ever kept, in which, for want of anywhere else to record them, I sometimes record non-literary, noteworthy, events–it was on July 29th that I received a letter from Reader’s Digest informing me that I had won an iPad in one of their contests.  Although this information doesn’t really belong in my reading diary (I don’t read Reader’s Digest unless, perhaps, I’m stuck in a dentist’s waiting-room for a long wait, and there is a copy at hand), it does belong in this diary concerning my experiences growing tomatoes.  The iPad actually made this diary possible.  (To be fair to those who provided me with my iPad, Reader’s Digest would seem to be a very good read for people who otherwise don’t read a great deal.  It’s also very suitable for waiting-room material.   And, its word-games are probably fun for anyone who likes words.)

The letter I received from Reader’s Digest informed me that I had won their national, on-line, vocabulary contest.  I’d be seriously deceiving myself if I believed that winning the contest indicated I possessed the best vocabulary in the country, or even that I was anywhere close.  People with good vocabularies usually have money, and those with money are unlikely to enter a vocabulary contest as a way of acquiring an iPad, when they can easily buy one.  Anyone with both a good vocabulary and money who may have considered entering just to prove they possessed a good vocabulary was unlikely to even know about his contest–unless, perhaps, during the contest period, they had an appointment with their dentist.

I, personally, learned about the contest not through reading the magazine but, rather, from a contest website I sometimes visit, that I can’t imagine many–if any–other people with graduate degrees visiting.  Or maybe that’s not the case at all.  A lot of us these days, including those with degrees, struggle financially, at least from time to time, and it could be that many college-educated people today are much more familiar with those contest websites,  that can be a useful resource for supplementing one’s income, than we’d usually care to admit.  Also, thinking of iPad contests in particular, iPads are relatively pricey and relatively new, and have capabilities that other electronic devices don’t have, so there are probably many people today who want one and are still without.

Maybe I did have some serious competition in that contest after all.  But, whether or not I had serious competition, it was great to win an iPad (fantastic, actually, after I found out what an iPad was capable of)–and better that it be in a vocabulary contest, in which I could take a certain amount of pride, than in a random draw.  

The letter further explained that, assuming I correctly answered their skill-testing question (“What is the picture on the ‘tails’ side of a Canadian dime?”), and otherwise filled in the attached form and returned it to them promptly, I would receive the iPad in about three weeks.  

JUNE 2011

October 1, 2011

I bought four small tomato plants at Stong’s, a local supermarket, in early June. The foxglove plants I had been growing in the bed beside the cedar hedge, third-generation offspring of the abnormally tall eleven-footer of 2009, had not come up well in the spring. Only three of the six plants from the preceding year–all of which were disappointingly average in height–had come up at all, two at one end of the bed and one at the other, with a large gap in between. So I ripped out what remained of the foxgloves and replaced them with the tomatoes.

This was the first time I had grown tomatoes–although I had sometimes watered the single tomato plant that my mother had brought home one day the previous summer and placed on the back deck, that she sometimes let get dangerously dry, to the point where I felt compelled to intervene. The plant grew quite tall, about a metre high; but it yielded only two, very small, green tomatoes, that ended up freezing during an early-fall cold snap before they were anywhere near ripe.

The four tomato plants I bought consisted of two each of two different varieties. With no real experience growing tomatoes, I didn’t know what I was buying; but I thought a little variety might be interesting, gastronomically-speaking, and also prudent, horiculturally-speaking. I didn’t know whether tomatoes of any kind would grow in that narrow bed, that received so much shade from the hedge running along it, and, by buying two different varieties, it seemed I was increasing my chances that at least two of the plants would do reasonably well. The pictures of the two varieties, on the plastic tags stuck in the little pots in which the plants were sold, seemed very similar. Both were pictures of ripe, red, tomatoes, surrounded by lots of leaves. There also was some text, including the names and basic descriptions of the varieties: I recall that one was said to be of an ‘early’ variety which, because of Vancouver’s relatively cool summers, seemed like a good choice. Yet, knowing little about tomatoes and tomato-growing, the words meant little to me, and I based by decision about what two varieties I should buy, of the half-dozen or so varieties that were being sold, mainly on the pictures.

As soon as I got home with the tomato plants, I planted them, spaced equally along the bed, with about eighteen inches between each plant, the two varieties alternating. With my nose close to the little plants as I bent over them to plant them in the bed, I noticed, for the first time, the distinct, tomato, aroma of even these little plants, with no tomatoes to be seen. I stuck the plastic identifying tags in the soil beside their respective plants. Some dowels, each about two feet in length, that would serve very well as the plants’ supports, at least initially, had been tucked away beside the shed for the past couple of years, the remains of a broken, wooden, clothes drying rack one of our former basement tenants had left behind when he moved out. It seemed all those dowels could one day be useful for something, and now they were. At this very early stage, with the plants only three or four inches tall, they didn’t yet need any external support. Still, in anticipation of what was to come, and because they helped to make my little row of plants look more like a row of tomato plants, I pushed one dowel down into the soil beside each of the small plants. (At this stage, I didn’t even bother to attach the plants to the sticks.) I now had myself a proper row of tomato plants.

The day after I bought and planted the little tomato plants, I started to look into various possibilities for the fertilization of the plants. Neither Mum nor I had fertilized the single tomato plant that grew on the back deck last year; but I had picked up somewhere that tomatoes could benefit from fertilizer. There were a couple of different kinds of fertilizer in the garage, the remains of some of Mum’s gardening efforts many years ago. Despite its colour, that initially suggested to me this substance had nothing to do with the good health of tomato plants–or with the good health of those consuming tomatoes from those plants–the blue crystalline fertilizer, in a half-empty, large, white plastic bag, at first seemed like the best bet. It said on the bag, in bold type, that this concoction was good for tomatoes–and I put my trust in our government regulators of fertilizers and such that it wouldn’t hurt me, in the process of being good for the tomatoes.

Unfortunately, when I first tried using it, I discovered that this fertilizer was, for the most part, as hard as a rock, the result of age and probably also of the dampness in the garage. The first time I fertilized the plants, I used it anyway, collecting loose crumbs from the bottom of bag; but, a few days later, seeking a better alternative, I came across Mum’s Miracle-Gro in its little yellow and green box on a shelf in the kitchen, that she still occasionally used for some of her indoor plants. It said on the box that it was “all-purpose” and, if I had any doubts that it was good for tomatoes, the Miracle-Gro was blue and crystalline, like the fertilizer in the garage–although still usable. (My logic at first seemed foolish, even to me; however, later on, I did a Google search and learned that the distinctive blue colour was not from any of the vital ingredients of either fertilizer but, rather, was from a blue dye, presumably harmless, that fertilizer producers use to distinguish fertilizers with certain qualities, to avoid errors in application. It’s basically a good idea, consistent with how we, or at least I, conceptually group things of like colour. But you’d think that, for fertilizers, especially those commonly used by home gardeners, they’d use a colour other than a colour that reminds me of toilet-bowl cleaner.) From then on, my tomato plants were fertilized with Miracle-Gro. (Mum didn’t miss the relatively small amount that I used from the still almost-full box. I did tell her about using it after the fact, and she didn’t mind.)

The instructions on the Miracle-Gro box said that, for outdoor plants, it should be used at a concentration of one teaspoon per gallon of water, and that fertilization should be done once every two weeks. For the first couple of months, I stuck to this basic regimen; but, later on, once the plants were much bigger and were bearing tomatoes, I increased the frequency to once a week, and added an extra half-teaspoon of Miracle-Gro to the water in the gallon-sized watering can. The tomato plants seemed to take well to the increased dosage. Also, my pot of mint, that I’d been growing for the past couple of years without fertilizer, and that I doused with some of the Miracle-Gro water on the days when I was fertilizing the tomatoes, loved the stuff. As the growing-season progressed, the mint had never been so tall and so lush.

 

%d bloggers like this: