I have long desired to complete my domestic circle by growing my own food. Not to say I've never grown anything: I've helped Nanna with her tomatoes and zucchini; I've participated in community gardens; I've planted crops on farms. But I've never done it on my own without a partner. So when Kansas was to be my new home, my dreams of homegrown produce glowed brighter than ever. I would have the space and time to make this happen.
Unfortunately, I wasn't moving until June so it's not like I could buy my precious plants in Illinois and haul them to Kansas. Let me tell you the jealousy I had when I was working at the farmers' market in my town and watching people buy tomato plants from my farmer. The Sungolds, Green Zebras, Brandywines teased me with their growing stems and multiplying leaves. I longed to see the pink flesh of a Purple Cherokee. I even contemplated buying one, trying to keep it alive inside my apartment and in the moving truck. Where in the world would I have fit it in this? Good thing I didn't get it. I would have been more heartbroken when it died than if I had bought it and enjoyed it for a few days. I don't think it would have stayed alive inside one of these boxes:
Plantless, I drove off to Kansas with thoughts of homegrown veggies still dancing in my head. Each cornfield, windmill and silo I drove by reminded me that I would be the only person living in Kansas not growing the sweet fruits of summer that are tomatoes.
When I finally got here, I hoped that I would have a chance at salvaging an unwanted tomato plant from any nursery within 15 miles of my house. I found a dozen nurseries and farm stores. I found one yellow-leafed tomato plant and one wilted pepper plant. In my entire city. Giddy as Christmas day, I loaded the lonely plants into my trunk, bought beautiful organic soil and compost, outfitted them in the finest containers and headed home.
I was so careful when I transplanted them to their new pots. I wanted to make sure there was enough soil on the bottom for the roots to grab on to. I wanted to make sure I had the right soil to compost ratio. I wanted to make sure they would survive that first night in their new home. The next morning I sprinted downstairs to see how they did. I was unbelievably surprised when I saw that the pepper planted had perked up, its leaves stretching to greet the morning sun. The tomato plant looked 100% healthier than it did when I bought it. Fewer sick-looking leaves, and when I peered closer in, I saw the telling yellow flowers starting to open. My heart soared.
For days I checked my plants like a protective mama. They got healthier by the day and grew steadily. Then one day, when admiring the resilience of my tomato plant, I saw something deep inside the leaves that I had missed before. A round, green piece of fruit. I was so concerned with getting them healthy, that I failed to notice this unexpected gift. I checked the bottom for blossom-end rot, but it was perfect. Day after day I watered before the sun was fully up to hydrate them ahead of the 106 degree days. And overnight, the green fruit started to turn orange. I sent this picture to almost everyone I knew:
I could hardly wait to pick that first tomato. I didn't want to pick it too early, but I certainly didn't want to be a day late on the harvest. One morning before work it was time. Carefully, I pulled it off the stem. With a plop it now rested in my hand rather than on the support of the plant. Here's what that first tomato looked like:
I sliced it for lunch and savored the unmatched sweetness that comes from eating a homegrown tomato rather than store bought. It was a very proud moment to eat a tomato that I had nurtured and cared for.
Happily I can report that my plants are still thriving despite the heat, and this morning, I noticed white flowers blossoming on my pepper plant. I can't wait to see what that first bell pepper will taste like. I imagine it will be every bit as satisfying as the tomato. Happy food growing!