Mark Hunter (ozma914) wrote,
Mark Hunter

Next week's column: Attack of the Killer Tomato Plants


Some of my friends told me about how wonderfully relaxing gardening is. They commune with nature, get their hands into something real, peaceful and nurturing. It’s an experience, they tell me, that soothes the soul.

I can’t believe my friends would lie to me like that.

It’s my fault. I went to the store looking for tomatoes and arrived home empty handed, telling my daughter I wouldn’t spend so much; I’d just eat my sandwich tomato-less, as was my right. A few weeks later, she showed up with a do it yourself kit consisting of a small container of earth and seeds.

“What are you planning to do with that?” She knows my history of growing things – which involves a lot of dying – and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Or at least, it wouldn’t if I was capable of growing apples.

My property used to have cherry trees, and rhubarb, and wild strawberries, and even roses. Which are not edible, don’t get me wrong – which of these things is not like the other? Sorry, I digress. My point is, it was almost Eden, thanks largely to the work of those who owned it before me. To take the Eden metaphor to its logical conclusion, I was the snake in the garden.

Now I’ve got dirt. And weeds. The weeds are doing fine, though.

Still, why not try? It’s not like I’d have to dig up my yard – a backhoe had done a fine job of that, weeks before. I would simply plant the tomatoes right where the sewer had been replaced, since it had already been tilled, kind of. Besides, that area had a rather high level of … um … nutrients in it, thanks to afore mentioned sewer problem.

It should be easy.

My ex-wife transplanted four of the two dozen or so plants into larger pots, and they were soon shooting up like weeds. Actually, like tomato plants. The other seemed to be doing okay too, although I suffered through dire warnings from my friends that two dozen plants would give an overwhelming number of tomatoes, and I might soon have to bring in migrant workers to help harvest.

Heh. I thought they knew me.

I put it off, and kept putting it off, until the other 20 plants started to wilt. Why? Because the same haunting phrase kept going through my brain: It should be easy.

It’s never easy. Not for me.

Finally I faced the challenge the only way I knew how: the internet. Google informed me that the plants needed to be a couple of feet apart, and in an area where there was lots and lots of sunshine. Marching outside, I discovered the huge heap where my sewer line had become a mountain range was only in the sun half the time. If I really wanted to do it right, I had to dig up still more of my yard, in the area so far untouched by natural or manmade disaster.

To heck with that.

Next was tackling the mountain range, which was covered with dirt clods ranging from fist to head size. I would hoe them into earth, smooth the earth out, and transplant the plant. Picking up the hoe, I swung it over my head and drove it with all my might into the nearest dirt clod.

It bounced off. Actually it bounced off and embedded itself in the side of my garage, but let’s not get picky. The dirt clods, thanks to a lack of rain, were as solid and unbreakable as a congressman’s retirement fund.

Looking closely at the ground, I realized huge cracks had opened up as it began to settle over the sewer line. Okay. I would simply put the hose into one of the cracks, soaking down the whole area so that the clods would be easy to chop up, and maybe the mountain range would settle a bit more, too. Guess I’d have to wait to do anything more. Oh, well, too bad.

A few hours later I walked outside to check, and discover the portion of the mountain range nearest the hose nozzle had collapsed and become a canyon. In one afternoon, all the disturbed earth had simply disappeared. I actually needed more earth, now.

Floating on top like a chain of islands, the dirt clods were dry and hard as ever.

Okay, plan … I don’t know, F? I sprayed down the entire area, until everything was soaked, then stepped across the area to start chopping up the clods and immediately sank to my calf. When I picked my foot up, half the yard came with me. The clods, on the other hand, were wet to a depth of about half an inch, and otherwise dry as English humor. That’s when I started taking a closer look at my yard.

It turns out my entire property is clay. I’m talking pure freaking clay. I could fill up a wheelbarrow full of it and sell it directly to an art studio, with no need to clean it up at all. I could, that is, if I could get it off my %#@&$*! shoes. How the grass grows on it, let alone anything else, is beyond me.

Eventually, after hours of spraying several hundred more gallons of water (and putting on snow shoes), I was able to rake out a more or less level area. Then I dug a series of holes five times bigger than necessary for the plants. I had to put fifty pounds of potting soil into the holes so the plants would have something they could actually sink roots into, then I had to put on special fertilizer. As of last check, the four plants my ex-wife transplanted are still alive; the rest are just – sad.

After figuring in materials, labor, clothing replacement and chiropractor bills, I’d estimate each tomato will be worth about $103.79.

I’d never have bothered if it wasn’t so wonderfully relaxing.

Tags: new era, slightly off the mark, weekly column
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