A garden on the edge


We’re about to lose control of our garden.

This is actually not a surprise. Happens pretty much every year. Terry and I figure out what we want to plant in our garden, get some visuals in our heads, which in turn becomes a conversation about how to merge her visual with mine. Ultimately, we arrive at a plan we are both excited about (and also know we aren’t going to use).

The twist is, as many of you can probably understand, we don’t stray too far from our thoughts. But when you are actually standing in the garden, plants ready to be arranged and set in place, adjustments get made to even the most specific and details of diagrams.

For us, the usual difficulty begins because we get impulsive with our shopping. This leads to bringing home more plants than we intended to have.

We head out expecting to pick up four green pepper plants. We spot an assortment of options when we get to the peppers and end up with four green, two jalapeno, two banana, and the occasional cherry. Nine plants tend to take up just a bit more room than four, sending any and all diagrams to the recycling bin. (A side note to this idea is that often plants are sold in trays. You only want one or two jalapeno plants, but end up buying six.)

One year we spun out of control based on tomatillo plants we purchased. We had absolutely no clue how to use tomatillos when we bought them. But we are always looking to experiment with something new, had heard about them previously, and once we spotted some we decided to give them a try. The added bonus was that they came in a tray of four plants. Four. We had left the house with no tomatillo plants in our garden vision for the year. Came home with four.

Last year’s big surprise was butternut squash. Who knew the massively long vines these plants send out? I know… several of you did. We didn’t. Or, more specifically, we weren’t expecting it. So, there we were, a few weeks in, with butternut squash vines mixing in with the cucumber vines, approaching the tomato plants, climbing up into some of the raised beds, and just generally preparing invasions on a ton of space while needing a lot of attention to keep them somewhat controlled.

This year the issue seems to be a real treat. One we normally have under control. Drum roll please… tomatoes!

I blame last year’s garden for this year’s head scratching, but first we need to discuss cheese and other assorted recipes.

Have you ever seen those recipes where things seem wildly out of whack? For instance, that it takes four hundred thirty-seven pounds of milk to produce one pound of cheese.

Ok… sure… you got me. It doesn’t take four hundred thirty-seven pounds of milk to produce one pound in any cheese recipe. I was exaggerating. But the realities of different cheese recipes are honestly just as shocking. Depending on the type of milk used (say, cow or goat) and the type of cheese being made, it certainly isn’t uncommon to need six to ten pounds of milk to realize one pound of cheese.

Crazy, right?

Well, last year, in the middle of the summer it became apparent that the normal schedule of gardening was settling in. Basically, that means waiting and waiting and waiting and getting sick of cucumbers and waiting and everything ready to pick on the same day.

I hadn’t been planning to make tomato sauce. We hadn’t selected any of our tomato plants with a thought of sauce. Sandwiches, yes. Salads, sure. Maybe even salsa. Not sauce though. But I had always wanted to make sauce from scratch. And here were all of these tomatoes ready to go… colanders and colanders and colanders of fresh tomatoes… and we weren’t going to be able to eat them or give them all away.

Experience has now shown me that you can indeed make tomato sauce from any tomatoes. In fact, you can make an absolutely delicious sauce… and, modesty aside, I do mean a really great sauce… even when you gather a large percentage of your tomatoes from the cherry and grape tomato plants in your garden. (The secret, I’ve found, is two-fold: (1) Low and really slow must be your cooking theme. (2) A willingness to first take some of the tomatoes and invest the time in making your own fresh tomato paste for use in the sauce.)

The really amazing part of the process, however, is how many tomatoes it takes to produce even a relatively small amount of sauce. (And, when you are using tomatoes that weren’t intended for sauce… yeah… you’re going to be stunned by the difference between what you started with and what you produced in the end.)

I’ve been setting up our garden for this year. Rototilling and prepping the soil. Cleaning out raised beds and setting up the fencing. And as Terry and I purchased some plants and seeds, our thoughts turned for just a second to tomatoes.

Our main uses fall into three categories. First – small – adding to a salad. Second – more often – great BLTs and club sandwiches with fresh lettuce and tomato. Third – largest batch – passed out to friends and family.

We always end up with far more tomatoes that we can ever use. (Please don’t write to me with suggestions of sharing with neighbors or ways of prepping vegetables to freeze for later use. I appreciate the thoughts. I really do. We already have basket exchange programs of sorts set up with our neighbors though, and our freezer is packed with bags of vegetables still remaining from last year’s harvest.) My running joke for each garden is that we could place no tomatoes and somehow seeds remaining from last year will take hold and provide us with plants that overtake a section.

This year, as we considered the three or four types to use for tomatoes, my mind began to wander down the path of sauce. Should we search out a Roma? Hunt for San Marzano? And, as expressed earlier with pepper plants, suddenly the ship was leaving the dock and heading for the storm…

We were going to cut back this year. Butternut squash was awesome and fun, but took up too much room. We didn’t need three styles of peppers sourced from ten plants. The beets were great, but the carrots not so much. Cut the butternut. Cut the banana. Cut the carrots.

We had plans.

And then… tomatoes.

We’re about ready to get the garden rolling this year. Preparations have been made. Plants and seeds are ready to bring outside. But there’s a real chance that if I head to the store just one more time… yeah.

Does anyone need any tomatoes?


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com