Tomatoes in the desert

I lived much of my life in central Illinois, on a glacial plain. The seasons were accommodating, the soil was rich and the rain plentiful. If you wanted a garden, you could stand in the back door and toss out a handful of seeds, then stand back.

My mother was a great gardener. The daughter of farmers, she had a huge messy overgrown garden from which she harvested really good stuff. She also grew a cherry tree from a pit, but that’s another story.

When I moved to high desert country in New Mexico, I found my gardening gene was still alive and well. My first domicile here was on the third floor of a building that had very nice grounds, but the small balcony of my apartment was one of the few places in Albuquerque that got virtually no sun. In the afternoon, a small patch of sun shone on a corner of the balcony. My cats, then three of them, competed for that spot. I was always afraid one would fall off, but it never happened. However, a plant I’d put there did bite the dust. Thank goodness, there was no one underneath.

When my six-month lease was up, I found a unit in a triplex that featured a small private courtyard. It gets plenty of sun, believe me. The soil … well, it’s not soil. It’s sand, caliche sand. That means heavy alkaline sand. So I got a growing box, a really nice one. It has a hinged top with pvc hoops and it came with two covers, a sort of filmy one designed to filter the intense sun and a plasticy one to create a little greenhouse in winters. The covers have long since bit the dust, the filter one disintegrating into shreds and the plasticy one now a big wad of torn plastic that floats around the courtyard. I’ll replace them soon. I also collected big pots that have no covers at all.

I grew some good stuff for several years. Greens in winter (boy were they good), tomatoes and peppers in summer. Oh, those tomatoes. Flowers.

Then I had a couple of bad years and didn’t plant anything at all. But this year, I was newly-retired and had plenty of time. I braved the crowds at the garden club’s sale and bought 4 heirloom tomato plants and several assorted herbs.

I risked my life for those plants. Hordes of crazed gardeners descended. I had hoped for a chance to talk to the gardeners. Ha. Those gardeners weren’t talking to anybody. They were selling. Selling to out of control … gardeners. I had never really thought of gardeners as being violent.

So I secured my plants and mixed fresh soil and compost into my grow-box and big pots. I watered faithfully and sprinkled organic fertilizer. Then we had a heat wave. And a heat wave in the desert is something to contend with. My herbs did well, but the tomatoes. The tomatoes grew into lush green plants covered with blossoms.

But no tomatoes. I emailed the Albuquerque Master Gardeners and got a nice reply. Just wait, the MG suggested. The heat wave was keeping the plants from fruiting. It cooled off a bit and sure enough, a handful of tomato-nubs appeared. And that’s all they did.

Eventually, three of the tiny things turned red. I harvested them, took them inside and arranged them carefully on a plate, with basil leaves for garnish.

Finally, I bit into one. It was all thick mushy, tasteless pulp.

Okay. That won’t stop me from doing it next year. I’ll study up on growing heirlooms and find a less dangerous source of plants. Or maybe I’ll just buy some Burpee’s.

I guess if you’ve got the gardening gene, you’ve gotta garden. And if you’ve ever tasted homegrown, vine-ripened tomatoes, you’ve got to have them. Even if they’re Burpees.


Bob Marley calls down the rain

Well. You can believe this or not, as you choose.

It’s Sunday. I’m peevish and frustrated and overwhelmed and mostly, worried. Apprehensive about a dozen things, few likely to happen. Rather than thinking about personal issues, I prefer to fret over global issues that I don’t stand a chance in hell of affecting. Lately, it’s drought. New Mexico has been in a drought for some time, and almost never has an abundance of water. Not much I can do except keep my water use as low as possible.

I couldn’t shake my malaise, even after a yoga nidra class, usually guaranteed serenity.

While net-surfing, I came across the Bob Marley line, “Don’t worry about a thing. Cause every little thing is going to be all right.” The song started playing in my head so I went to YouTube and played it three times. By the end of the first playing, my mood had lifted considerably.

Then, halfway through the second playing, it started to rain. A good rain (unpredicted by, of the kind we rarely see here, a big rain that is marching right along, lasting an unusually long time and still going strong. It has staying power, not the blink-and-you’ll miss showers we more often see. It is strong and plentiful, but not so hard as to bounce off the grounds. It’s soaking in.

A soaking rain. A blessing in this high desert. Every little thing is going to be all right. I played the song a third time, as a sort of celebration.

I’m not what you’d call a ‘music person’. I sometimes love to listen to it, but my range is limited and I tend to listen to the same things over and over. That I have as much range as I do is due entirely to my music scholar friends. I was lucky in Illinois to become part of a group \ of music-istas. Most of them were, in fact. They introduced me to many artists I love and here’s a big mmmwaaa to all of them. (I won’t try to list them, but a shout-out must go to songbird Jules and Ross)

These folks had music going all the time, no matter what else we were doing. I’ve never done that. I love silence and am lucky enough to live so as to get a lot of it.

But when I do listen to music, even sing-song ditties, I am struck anew with the magic it can work.

I really must remember to listen to music more often.

Have a listen. Especially if you’re in a bad mood. Try to not feel better. I dare you.

Let me know if it rains.

Basil Fawlty as metaphor

The other night, I was noodling around Netflix and found an old favorite – Fawlty Towers. I used to enjoy this insane comedy, with the brilliant John Cleese and an equally talented supporting cast of loonies. I was hoping for a good idiot laugh.

Innkeeper Basil Fawlty predictably worked himself into a foaming-at-the-mouth frenzy, based on a series of misinformation (accurate information was never a priority for Basil). It involved an illicit woman in a man’s room, with Basil systematically spying on and assaulting every woman at the Inn. At the end, the guests voted, unanimously expressing their displeasure with Fawlty Towers.

Perpetual victim Basil stalked out, muttering insults at the guests and his long-suffering wife.

I don’t know if he came back, I had to quit watching. It was too much like Washington, and I’ve had to quit watching that, too.