A story for tomato season

And now for my annual report about container gardening on the balcony . . .

Unlike earlier failures — growing annuals in railing planters, keeping container perennials alive outdoors over the winter, and keeping plants brought indoors alive over the winter — the 2019 gardening season was looking successful.

The floor planters were thriving, with decorative grasses and ferns sprouting new shoots, lettuce growing in the EarthBox, and four o’clock seeds producing two-foot plants by August.

On the railings, creeping charlie, though considered a weed when it invades lawns, was doing what I’d hoped for —  filling in thickly and spilling over the sides of the planters. I even excused the creeping charlie when it crowded out the begonias inserted in the center of each railing planter for color. It was nice to have the bare earth covered.

I had sown something else for color in the railing planters. The same neighbor who gave me the four o’clock seeds last year left me a brown bag this spring with the label “marigold seeds.” By August the plants were getting taller than marigolds grow. They also looked suspiciously like the tomato plants he gave me to plant in the EarthBox around the lettuce. Then they produced yellow flowers that transformed into green balls.

Yep, what he’d given me were tomato seeds. Too tall for railing planters and buffeted by the wind on a balcony nine floors up, the plants have toppled over. The green tomatoes show no signs of ripening on the vine.

My neighbor wasn’t playing a trick on me. He was surprised and apologized profusely. I said I wouldn’t have told him if I didn’t consider it funny. What I suspect is that he gave me marigold seeds in which tomato seeds were accidentally mixed, and only the tomato seeds germinated.

The upside is that I’ve learned about green tomatoes. I had no idea whether they are grown to be green or are tomatoes that don’t ripen. I’ve found out that some tomatoes are varieties that are green when ripe, while others are unripened red tomatoes. Both can be used in recipes, the unripened red ones giving a more tart flavor. We’ve all heard of fried green tomatoes. They can be eaten with a sauce or made into a sandwich with red tomatoes and cheese. There are countless other recipes for green tomatoes online, including relishes, salsas, and breads.

Before cooking with the tomatoes, I might try to ripen them off the vine. Commercial growers, I’ve read, sometimes pick tomatoes when green and expose them to ethylene, a gas that promotes ripening. Tomatoes produce ethylene on their own and will ripen on the countertop. The process can be speeded up, however, by storing them with other ethylene producers like bananas. Bananas with some green at the ends are reportedly ethylene-producing powerhouses.

The instructions are to wash and dry the tomatoes and put a few into a paper bag with a banana. Larger quantities can be stored in a cardboard box with bananas, putting a little space or a shred of newspaper between the tomatoes. Leave them at room temperature out of direct sunlight, check daily, and remove any tomatoes that show signs of disease or mold. Once ripened, tomatoes should be used within a week.

As if to give me another message that I shouldn’t have been smug about my gardening prowess, the creeping charlie lately has been turning brown. Maybe I’ve overwatered. I had been hoping it would survive the winter and come back next year, but now I’m not sure I want it.

Once again, I end the gardening season with thoughts of doing better next year. And really, would it be fun if there weren’t mishaps to learn from?



“There’s a presidential election coming and with it the danger that Trump will find military confrontations overseas useful avenues for a political boost.”

— Timothy L. O’Brien, executive editor, Bloomberg Opinion, about Trump’s response to the drone attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil fields


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