by Maria Schulz
I am a city girl at heart, born and bred. I never had a backyard garden until a few years ago when I planted all sorts of delicious things, including tomatoes, herbs, eggplant, and cucumbers. I watered, I pruned, I fed my plants, and gazed out my window with pride when they started to grow. Then, I walked outside one morning to find that the squirrels, bunnies, and assorted other animals ate all of my vegetables.
When I think of my feeble attempts to grow stuff, I feel like Ava Gabor on Green Acres. Remember that show? The lines from the opening credits make me think of myself in the early days of living out in the boonies: “New York is where I’d rather stay. I get allergic smelling hay. I just adore a penthouse view. Darling I love you, but give me Park Avenue.”
I’ve since moved out of that house and into a new one. I don’t have a “proper” garden, but for the past two years, I have had container pots on my deck. Since I have no idea what I’m doing, there have been some bumps along the way. Let’s just say that if I was trying to grow plants to feed myself and others and hold us over in the event of an apocalypse, we would all be in big trouble.
When I mentioned that I wanted to try growing tomatoes last year, my florist gave me a tiny cherry tomato plant and told me that maybe I’d get one or two tomatoes from it. I ended up with over three dozen tomatoes, and I found lots of ways to get those tomatoes into my diet. Sauces, sandwiches, omelettes, tomato caprese…you name it, I probably ate it. It’s a wonder I didn’t turn red.
I loved that little plant. It required very little of me, beyond water and a makeshift stake or two, and it just kept pumping out those little tomatoes. They were very flavorful and I enjoyed sharing them with my family…even though I’m pretty sure that they had sworn off tomatoes by the Fall.
My wild success last year led me to this year. I bought what I thought was another cherry tomato plant and put it in a small pot in the same sun-drenched location. But suddenly, it started to grow like crazy. I thought I had bought the same plant that Jack, of Jack and the Beanstalk fame, had gotten. To honor Jack, I named my plant Jackie. Also for Jackie O, who turned heads and was a real looker.
I quickly learned that what I bought was something else entirely. A beefsteak tomato plant was my new “baby,” and within a week or two, it had grown beyond anything I originally imagined.
A quick chat with friends who actually know what they’re doing enlightened me to what I was in for. Tomato cages and stakes became part of my little vegetable grower’s world, even though last week I might have said: “Nobody puts Jackie in a cage!” You know, like Patrick Swayze said about putting Baby in the corner…. Anyway, before a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea you needed to put your tomatoes in a cage (or a corner).
We picked up a giant pot, some special soil, the all-important stake, and suddenly, we were in business. Jackie, my tomato plant, is doing very well and will soon be a few feet taller than me, which figures. Everyone who comes into this house ends up taller than me.
While I was out buying my tomato plant, I picked up this herb garden too. It’s also growing so fast that I don’t know what to do with all of it. It’s going into my sauces, sandwiches, salads, omelettes…you get the picture. Soon it will be going into small baggies and left in unsuspecting friends’ mailboxes.
Sage, oregano, thyme, Italian parsley, and basil round out this little basket of herbs that have been the stars in my most recent batches of spaghetti sauce. My husband and kids thought it tasted pretty awesome, and I’m really glad about that…because they will be eating lots more where that came from.
If you couldn’t tell, I now enjoy living out here in Green Acres. I haven’t met Arnold the Pig yet, but I’m pretty sure we will cross paths soon enough.
Recipe: Classic Italian Tomato Sauce
This sauce recipe calls for fresh tomatoes or canned, and it seems pretty easy to follow. I am no stranger to jar sauce (especially on a weeknight), but is there anything better than fresh, homemade tomato sauce? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. Try this recipe and enjoy!
So, Hungry Lifers…have you ever grown anything? What are your best tips? Do you have a good tomato sauce recipe? Please leave a comment and let us all know. Thanks!