Growing vegetables and flowers on the high plains of Western Kansas requires eternal hope much like a child’s expectant, devoted belief in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Because we trust, we will harvest succulent, homegrown vegetables and fruits. Each spring gardeners across this region sift through garden magazines and seed catalogues or visit local garden shops with a gambler’s hope that this will be the year.
Eleven years after moving to our limestone hilltop, payday arrived. Yes, Virginia, that garden will produce a bonanza harvest.
Due to a combination of timely rains and chicken poop, we had a dream tomato harvest--this despite hail that totaled our roof and left tender tomato plants shattered and broken. Despite the setback, vines began producing at the end of July, only a bit later than they might have without Mother Nature’s challenges. Produce was an understatement. The plants burgeoned with softball-sized fruits that tasted like captured sunbeams and covered chins and necks with flavorful juice.
That led to a dilemma. We had a small, raise-bed plot due to our topsoil- challenged circumstances. Based on past plantings, I’d left plenty of room between seedlings so they could stretch, grow, and still leave space to harvest ripe tomatoes.
That year’s timely, ample rains and the perfect addition of cured chicken droppings inspired legendary vine growth. The intertwining plants were over three and half high by three and a half feet wide. That’s a minimal estimation since it’s hard to tell how tall the plants might be if they weren’t weighed down by humongous orbs. I couldn’t get through that green jungle without playing a contortionist game.
My visiting mother explored the maze and discovered scores of ready- to-pick tomatoes. Other than the fun of digging hills of potatoes, I don’t think there’s much my mom likes better than finding every ripe tomato on eight very crowded, over-grown plants. She turned into a tomato General Patton as she stood outside the fenced garden and directed the placement of my feet and hands so I could pluck every mature fruit she’d spied.
“More to the left, down a few more inches, don’t step too hard with your right foot, stretch, can’t you see it, oh look, there’s a great big one on the other side of that plant, watch out, you’re bending that branch, oh can you get all four of those and pass them to me….”
I decided I was playing garden “Twister.” My limbs knotted so I barely kept my balance. However, in the real Hasbro game, you don’t have to worry about destroying producing tomato plants. The worst you can do is bruise a fellow player or black an eye.
By the time I followed all Mom’s directions, we’d filled a five-gallon bucket two days in a row. Taking our harvested trophies into the house, we rinsed, blanched, peeled, and quartered them until I had six large freezer bags of ready-to-turn-into-salsa frozen tomatoes. I had to recover from that spine-twisting garden game before I could lift the jar-filled canner from the hot stove.