Trying something new

The Tomato Chronicles, part 1

It wasn’t my fault, really it wasn’t.

There I was at the Collingswood Farmers’ Market last August, and there was one of the vendors with all kinds of strange-looking heirloom tomatoes for sale. So I bought a pint basket of assorted tomatoes, and they tasted amazing. All right, I admit that I deliberately planned to buy some more this year. But that was all.

Then, come February – and it’s not my fault that it was an exceptionally cold, gray, snowy February – I was innocently shopping for groceries when I passed a rack full of seed envelopes. And some of the envelopes had pictures of tomatoes. And some of the pictured tomatoes were so big and red that I wanted to take a bite out of the envelope – hey, it was February, I hadn’t tasted a good tomato in six months – and some of the tomatoes on the envelopes were purple! Or green! or black!

In short, eight or ten varieties of heirloom tomato seeds, and I have so much self-control that I only bought six of them.

Box Car Willie. Cherokee Purple. Brandywine. Aunt Ruby’s German Green. Black Krim. Romesco. Even the names are appetizing to roll around your mouth.

Then, having gone that far, I needed to find out how to make them grow. Not that I expected any results at all. But I talked to people and I poked around online, and then I bought a couple of seed starting kits, with a dozen peat pellets each and a lid to keep the seeds cozy and humid. I waited impatiently till the beginning of March – May 15 is the “frost-free” date around here – and then I opened up the kits.

They didn’t look promising. Each one contained a dozen objects that resembled large, fibrous, light brown coins. I read the directions one last time and dribbled warm water slowly over the coins. They turned black. More water. They slowly, lopsidedly, determinedly started to grow taller and taller. By the time the peat had sopped up all the warm water, I had two kits with two dozen little black drums in them, about an inch across and something over an inch tall.

My friend Sue the Master Gardener said that tomato seeds need to be nice and warm, so after sprinkling two or three seeds – sometimes an accidental four seeds – over each pellet (and dropping a few, maybe five, between the pellets when my fingers slipped) and smoothing just enough peat over the seeds to cover them and sticking labels on the kits so I would know what was planted on which pellet, I put the lids back on and stuck the kits on a high shelf, up in the warm air that was only to be found at ceiling level that month. I didn’t expect anything to happen.

Even if the seeds were going to germinate, everybody said it wouldn’t happen for a week to a week and a half. At best, in seven days I might see little hints of green breaking the surface. So every day, when I peeked under the lids that held in the moist air, I reminded myself what an idiot I was being. But I kept checking.

I planted the seeds on a Wednesday. This is what I saw the following Sunday, four days later.

Heirloom tomato seedlings just after sprouting

Tomato seedlings, only four days after planting the seeds

To be continued…

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