This morning, as I headed somewhere, car keys in one hand, iPod in the other, I found myself yanked momentarily away from my earnest, busy intentionsby a glimpse of gold peeping from the green foliage in the corner of our front yard.
And then, before I really knew what hit me, I was balanced precariously at the edge of the raised bed we call our “garden,” plucking cherry tomatoes from the sprawling vine.
It is one of the rituals — and pleasures — of my domestic life that every spring I plant tomatoes. The ritual began a year or so after we bought our first house, when our oldest was a toddler, and in the beginning, I had grand ambitions for it, as I do for most things. Tomatoes, I promised myself. Watermelon and cantaloupe. Summer squash and zucchini and cucumbers.
I would feed my little family of three just like a midwestern farm wife!
Spring Planting, 2003
That first year, I started heirloom seeds I had purchased from a beautifully-illustrated catalogue . I ended up with dozens of seedlings that, lacking that midwestern farm wife’s farm, I mostly had to give away. That first year, I knew someone who had ten-acres-and-a-mule so I hauled home trash cans of black gold (i.e. manure) in the back of our newly-acquired station wagon. I nursed the seedlings along, got them into the ground; I battled horn worms. I can’t remember if the harvest that year was good or bad.
In the eleven years since, my ambitions have been whittled down. On a good year, I plant tomatoes and cucumbers and beans and one of the other of them will stubbornly refuse to grow. More often, I just buy tomato seedlings at Lowe’s and slap them into the ground and hope for the best. I used to be a thoughtful gardener: now I know that things grow despite —not because of — me. Some years squirrels get all my harvest. Some years, it’s just plain too droughty, and I forget to water regularly, and the whole enterprise is pretty much of a bust.
This year, I planted cherry tomatoes because I was sick of spending 4 bucks a pint for them all summer long. Sun golds and black cherries — so candy-like you could almost call them the bonbons of the tomato world.
If nothing else, growing your own food is a great way to learn just hard it can be — to grow food. My garden could never — not even in my wildest dreams — produce enough to see us through a winter.
Although our society is rife with inequities, certain sorts of abundance are a given. We assume there will always be cherry tomatoes, arrayed pint-beside-pint at the grocery store. And that assumption is correct. Barring apocalypse, there will be.
The lesson the tomato plants in the front yard teach is that the fact that I get even a single tomato at all is a miracle.
This morning, I set my business aside for a few minutes and picked tomatoes. In seconds, I had more than I could hold in my hands. I made a bowl of my t-shirt; kept picking.
The plants are such an unmannerly sprawl that finding the fruit is a game of hide-and-seek. Just I think I’ve gotten all the ripe ones, I move to the other side of the bed and spy new ones. There is always just enough for dinner that night, and the next day’s lunches.
The garden sings its beautiful song.
It might as well be a detail from a fairy tale, the way the plants magically replenish themselves in the night and then offer up more, our everyday abundance.
 Must be productive, must be efficient, must keep to the schedule, the to-do list!