I’m eating one tomato that cost me $3.60 “ That’s outrageous”, you say. “At the grocery store you can buy two punnets for $3”. Let me explain. This is a tale of mishandled finances, stress and lost sleep.
Last year I was determined that for Christmas in our new home we would eat all things red and green, freshly picked from our garden. But, if planted after the cold, tomatoes would not be ready towards the end of December. So I had a conniving plan to ambush one tomato plant into bearing us gifts on this special day.
Technically it’s possible to start tomato plants towards the end of winter in a green house so they crop earlier. Some of these sneak into the garden centres at the beginning of spring and it was there I fell under a gutsy green-fingered spell. Here was a spritely early cropper grafted onto strong roots looking at me … and how could I resist his charms (especially with the name of ‘Money Maker’)?
The till assistant thought I was up to mischief and sternly warned that he was tender hearted – the slightest cold shoulder would kill him. Hugging my plant close I blushed and assured her I would take great care of my tomato (though I didn’t plan on having him share my house for any longer than necessary).
It’s not like we were going to have an affair – although in the end he got an awful lot of my attention; outgrew our relationship and failed to live up to my expectations.
My new companion had to be kept comfortable and was known as a ‘gross feeder’ so I was out of pocket with a special tomato grow tower pot; luxury compost and organic fertiliser. But my investment would reap future benefits I reasoned. Occupying the sunniest spot indoors he flourished – growing to a handsome height in just weeks. Daily I chatted and flattered the greenery as advised by scientists who claim that plants can hear and respond to sounds.
He was definitely one of those silent types but I’m sure I detected a curl of a leaf here and there especially when I stroked it.
We went on outings, though it was always up to me to do the heavy work. As the daytime temperatures warmed, I carried him out onto the deck where he sunbathed ALL day. We met again in the evenings with a chill in the air and I dragged him back inside for his own good. Then came the day when he did an ‘all nighter’ … once, twice, then frequently.
At first it was a relief to have the house to myself again but he still required waitress service and, as the temperatures rose so did his thirst.
I can’t remember exactly when he charmed me with flowers but I knew then I was looking forward to his offspring.
But storms inevitably come don’t they?
It was my husband who saved us.
“Are you worrying?”, he whispered in the dead of night while the winds were thrashing outside.
“Yes”, whimpered I
“Would you like me to bring him in?” offered hubby.
By now my tomato plant was taller and stronger than me. Hubby hauled him indoors again and there potted man remained dominating the corner of the living room. He very soon grew scruffy and out of hand so keeping him well pinched and groomed was a daily
chore task of mine.
Flowers became the promise of fruit. Yuletide loomed and Money Maker was occupying the only space I had to put decorations up. He was actually looking quite handsome now with bunches of green balls and so took on the role of substitute Xmas tree. How exciting it was to imagine a mix of red and green baubles on the morning of 25 December. How much fresher could Christmas dinner get?
December was unusually chilly for this time of year. The weight of the fruit strained my fancy plastic support tower and all ripening stalled in the cold. By Xmas day cracks appeared, all systems gave way and my indoor companion slumped into a drunken stupor against the chimney. (Yes I have one in the new house for our tiny log-burner!) Meanwhile my granddaughter took to picking the green baubles inside – only leaving the ones at the top. February arrived and so did the aphids – too many to handpick off Money Maker.
Absurdly I found myself vacuuming them off each leaf to avoid using chemical sprays – a desperate move to keep the relationship alive long enough to get some pay back.
And it came …
… in the end.
The offspring: 30 small cherry tomatoes.
So now I am sinking my teeth into one and doing the maths:
$9 – 1 tomato plant on grafted roots
$18 – 2 tomato plants that did not survive
$40 – tomato grow tower
$12 – Potting mix
$13 – Tomato food
$16 – heavy duty plant stakes
About 30 tomatoes ready to ripen on plant
$108/30 = $3.60 each
Time, stress and sleep deprivation cannot be discounted.
“Was it worth it?” you ask
“Well, they taste much better than the ones from the shops. But no better than the tomatoes I planted outside (later than the original one) and they cropped earlier!”
Next year I’m going to stick with ‘Big Beef’. We’ll have a long distance relationship … I’ll chat with him in the garden from my deck and that’s about all the fussing he’ll get from me. There’ll be no tomatoes on my Christmas menu.