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.


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