My father planted 300 tomato plants this year.
He started them from seeds in his small greenhouse.
Later, he painstakingly transplanted them.
When the plants weren’t up to the first knuckle of your little finger, he told me about his Big Tomato Plans. He was heading to the farmers’ market in Jackson to sell to the good people looking for locally grown tomatoes.
At this point in this tomato tale, you should know that my father hasn’t exactly eased into retirement.
In fact, he’s retired more times than the rest of us can count. He conjures up new plans to keep him busy every week, but we all liked the Big Tomato Plan. It was reasonable. It was do-able. There was little risk involved. It was something he would enjoy.
I even ordered special flower seeds for him to grow alongside his tomatoes. My thinking was the flowers would make his the snazziest tomato-selling stand around.
“Dad, I know there are plenty of florists who would appreciate some locally-grown Bells of Ireland, and they should do really well in your garden. Take some of those giant sunflowers you’ve got growing with all the tomatoes coming in. You’ll have a great little farmer’s stand in the market,” I said long before the first tomato turned red.
I could see it all. It was colorful and beautiful. There was a gingham tablecloth involved. We were one happy tomato-growing family.
Then, two frosts came.
Each killed about 50 tomato plants.
Still, 200 good tomato plants were thriving.
Then the Great Tomato Scare of ’08 happened. People really wanted tomatoes. We (meaning my father) were in business.
Then, in the height of the salmonella-scare, I began to hear about him giving away his prized tomatoes.
“When are you heading to the farmers’ market?” I asked back in June.
“Oh, I don’t know. I got lots of people around here wanting the tomatoes. You know they’re hard to come by this year,” he would say as he loaded up a bucket of tomatoes to take to a friend.
And so, the summer has progressed.
My father has yet to sell a single tomato.
Oh, he’s had plenty.
“We still getting them,” he said. “I bet you I had ten or 12 different varieties. Robin (his son/my brother) ordered a bunch of seeds for me. He called up on some Internet place and talked to some people. I got yellow tomatoes, pink tomatoes, some non-acid tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, Mexican tomatoes …”
I couldn’t hold it in any longer.
“Dad, I thought you were planting all these tomatoes to sell. Why haven’t you sold any tomatoes? What happened to our Big Tomato Plans?”
I don’t know if I completely buy his answer. However, it involved God, so questioning him further was out of the question.
“God gave them to me. I can give them away. I bet you I’ve given over 150 people tomatoes,” he said.
Which means he’s probably given them to 50 people.
My father tends to exaggerate. Even still, there’s no question that the man can grow a good tomato.
“The tomato is kind of the barometer of garden vegetables,” he said. “If you can raise tomatoes, you can raise about anything, Everybody asks you about how your tomatoes are doing.”
And, in answer to that question, my dad’s tomatoes are doing just fine. If you get the chance to ask him about them, I’ll sure he’ll give you a basket full.
(Jan Risher is a working mother who lives in Lafayette. Her column appears Sundays. E-mail her at longstoryshort.risher@ gmail.com.)