One of the joys of planting tomatoes in the cool spring months is the anticipation of juicy red-orange globes and crisp, green peppers. In May when I yearned for a garden tomato, I imagined seeing them traveling from garden to kitchen via an extra wide apron. Once there, I would slice the tomatoes evenly and lay them out like a prized card hand. To enhance my artistry, I envisioned peppers neatly seeded and cut in even strips presented alongside those perfect tomatoes.
Since I moved to my limestone hilltop, I find myself happy to have vegetables to harvest. Who cares about unblemished skins and symmetry? Due to our rocky soil, my husband built me a raised garden and lugged in bushels of dirt to fill the bed of railroad timbers. Until this year we’ve had several mishaps that left me with nothing to harvest and a longing for the lush gardens I grew when we lived across the Bridge to Nowhere.
It didn’t look like this spring boded much better for my plantings. I lost one tomato plant and three pepper plants, including my jalapeno pepper plant, to some unknown ailment. They simply wilted and died. Then the wind tried to carry off the remaining five tomato and two pepper plants.
I guess their survival proves the adage that “what doesn’t kill you, strengthens you,” because despite losing several branches and innumerable leaves, they not only lived, they seemed to enjoy taking a regular beating. By late June, scads of little tomatoes formed on my masochistic plants.
While the tomatoes took off with little encouragement from me, the peppers had a strange obstacle to overcome. Through the previous fall and winter, I had done a little on-site composting, putting peels and shells and what not right onto the garden. As my tiny little pepper plants grew, strange weeds that looked a lot like potato plants kept sprouting all around them.
Initially, I kept pulling these intruders like weeds until I realized what I had done earlier. I never imagined that placing potato peels in the garden would function like cutting up seed potatoes and planting them. Yep, I was growing potatoes O’Brien right in my little raised-bed garden. Eventually, I left enough sprouts to see what would happen in that kind of soil and pulled enough to let my peppers grow.
By mid-July, I saw that we would have a tomato and pepper harvest. We would have more than a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich, barring destructive hail or other catastrophes. I next hoped the harvest would be sufficient to make homemade salsa. That is where I am today as I begin the second week of August. Over the past few days I picked enough ripe tomatoes and peppers to make a batch. It is upstairs right now, bubbling and simmering its way to edibility.
Eating fresh produce is reward enough for any gardener, but there is something especially nice about picking fresh vegetables and bringing them into the kitchen where you work a spell and turn a few tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, and jalapenos into a unique salsa recipe.
While I enjoyed watching nature work her magic as she made my garden mature into edible delights, I enjoy even more looking at the western sun backlighting a counter full of jeweled light. Each jar of salsa shines with all the richness of my garden more intensely than any stone I could find in a jeweler’s display. If the salsa lasts, these colors will warm me inside and out this winter as I plan next year’s garden and next year’s salsa.