Homegrown Tomato Countdown: Ten, Nine, Ocho…


So. Squirt and I decided to take a walk through our big garden after dinner last night. I grabbed a fresh Carta Blanca and we headed out. The garden covers a total of ten acres and Mother tends to it with the collection of what now totals five wards. The wards are but the current crop of unfortunates whom we give a place to live, and work, while they recover from whatever it is they are recovering from.

I won’t get too deep into it, again book fodder and off-limits here. But what I will do is tell you that our garden tenders this spring include a musician, a former assistant district attorney, a waitress and a second musician. Each of the four are here because they need help and this was all they could find. The Johnson family ranch is a large property with many buildings and most of the buildings are houses– the homes of the former landowners.

Over the years, I have accumulated a few thousand acres and grown the original forty into a prosperous enterprise. I’ve made quite a bit of money in my life, starting at a young age, and land is the best investment to me.

Anyway, as I strolled through the rows of corn and tomatoes and peppers, and such, it was obvious that different plant varieties were tended by different resident farmers. While most rows looked as though an amateur gardener was in charge, my treasured tomato plants are each planted with the precision of a Swiss watch. Every plant has been installed at the perfect depth, was trimmed cleanly and accurately, and the spacing and row management is concise.

“Mierda, Senor Mooner! ?Que nos jijamos en que?” Squirt exclaimed.

“Holy shit is right, Squirt. Looks like somebody’s OCD is running on high alert,” I answered.

My guess is that my mother has assigned the keyboard player the duties of tending my tomatoes. Mother knows their importance to me and always tries to mother them the most. The young man watching over my tomatoes came to us when Streaker Jones and Dixie dropped him off a few weeks ago. Seems he had arrived early for the South-by-Southwest Music Festival, jobless and looking for a gig.

This young man isn’t autistic, but Dr. Sam I. Am-Johnson says he is a possible sufferer of Asperger Syndrome. He’s got a load of natural musical talent– he’s almost a savant. And he’s got a double dose of social disorders in the balance. He twitches and stares at you without blinking and he has mechanical speech mannerisms. Everything about him is guarded and he shows no emotions outwardly.

And he’s fucking adorable. When I ask him about my tomato plants, he can rattle-off the characteristics of each variety like he was reading the book. He memorized the book.

He has a notebook where he keeps his diary of each plant. Every plant is carefully numbered by row, row placement and variety. The plant’s history– whether the seed came from Johnson family stocks or the vendor if it were purchased. What date it was first sown in the greenhouse, water and compost schedules and growth results, all of that shit.

He showed me the notebook at dinner, which is why we were taking this walk. “Look, Mooner, see this number?” he asked me. The notebook jammed in my face was opened to the section titled “Tomatoes; Row Six; Area Two; Subsection Early Girl/First Planting.”

“Pull it back, son, so I can see it,” I gently said. “OK, that’s the neatest handwriting I ever saw.”

“Well of course. Now look at the notation by plant number Early Girl 16.”

I’m looking at the half-page of notes for little Missy number 16, trying, politely, to determine which of the notes he meant. When I didn’t respond appropriately to his expectations, he said, “The one in green pen, Mooner. I write all of my expected harvest notes in green. Green is the correct color for harvest notes, where red is for problems, see? Like when tomato worms make their debut, that will be notated in red. Now, look at the green note and tell me what it says.”

Like I say, the kid is adorable. “Well, lemme read it. OK, it says, ‘Anticipate ripe fruit/lower south-west quadrant/Friday 4/1/11 approx. 7:36 pm.’”

The unblinking eyes almost registered a smile. “Exactly,” he said, and he sat down to finish his meal.

So that little interchange is why the almost-my puppy known as Squirt is walking with me through the garden. “Where the fuck is Subsection Early Girl, Bwana Mooner?”

“How the shit do I know, little lady. And don’t cuss so much. You aren’t my puppy yet.”

Then I noticed the popscicle stick markers carefully placed in the soil at the base of each plant. The careful penmanship was obviously the tomato tender’s work, and each stick obviously marked the plant and correlated to the notebook references. Since Squirt can’t read well yet, I had to stoop to read the numbers on the sticks. So I’m on hands-and-knees like a baby, crawling from plant-to-plant.

“Over here. Pronto, arriba!” an excited Squirt calls me.

I jumped up and ran down the row maybe fifty feet to where she stood. The little hound was on point and she was doing her vibrating thing. Her little body was buzzing so hard that her feet were becoming buried in the soft garden soil.

“If I don’t call you off point little girl, you’re gonna be neck deep.” I chuckled and took her off point.

“Mira, Sir, look at that!” as she nudged a tomato on the lower part of the plant.

“Well I’ll be damned,” I said. “It’s ready to harvest.”

It was, and it is a beauty. It’s got one of those deep creases across the bottom that makes it resemble Kim Kardashian’s ass, and it has a little poochie gathering in the front that looks like a camel toe. My mouth started watering just thinking about salting it up.

I checked my watch and saw it read 7:35 pm. “Let’s wait one more minute before plucking it, Squirt. We don’t want to disappoint our grower.”

We finished our Carta Blanca while the sixty seconds ticked away, and counted down the last of them. “Ten, nine, ocho, siete, six, cinco, quarto, tois, deu, one!” was Squirt’s countdown.

I placed my hand under the ripened fruit and told Squirt to do the honors. She nudged it with her nose and it dropped into my hand. When held to the fading spring sunlight it brought tears to my eyes. It was the most incredible first harvest I had ever seen.

I am always amazed when my conservative, usually deeply religious, friends complain about funding for social services. As our small part, we Johnsons provide food, shelter and medical services, and opportunity for a small number of people not providing for themselves. We’re careful who we take in because we take them into our homes.

Next time I’m asked why I would do such a thing, I’ll think about that tomato.

Manana, y’all.

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6 Responses to “Homegrown Tomato Countdown: Ten, Nine, Ocho…”

  1. How in SAM hell can you possibly have tomatoes that are READY???? I haven’t even planted my little tomato plants from the growing containers INTO the garden yet. Mooner – when we get married and I am wife # 12, will you promise to ALWAYS have fresh garden tomatoes at the ready for me? I love garden tomatoes. You may have to build a greenhouse. I want them year-round.

  2. admin says:

    Reck. We start them early and protect them. When we don’t have a late freeze— bingo.

    I would feed you thin slices, laying the seasoned goodness on your tongue as you lay nestled in bed.

  3. Squatlo says:

    I believe your whole mission with these tomato posts is to drive Tennesseans insane… We’re weeks away from putting anything in the ground, and you’re already harvesting home grown maters… it’s just not fair. How can a state that fucks up the school colors from our beloved Tennessee’s orange to that burnt maple leaf orange, sends certifiable morons to Washington, and currently harbors more teabaggers than the rest of the country combined ALSO have such wonderful growing conditions that it makes early April tomatoes possible? Are the gods crazy? Is there no fucking justice on this planet?


    Great to be able to come visit, hope your techies got this all worked out!

  4. admin says:

    Squat. OK, first, thanks for all of your help.

    Second, you are correct, sir. The combination of good spring weather and expert agronomy, I am tomato king.

    Third, at least the burnt orange of Texas is a color that occurs in nature. Your orange can only be duplicated by feeding a baby a gallon of orange extract and three pounds of bananas.

    Fourth, I wish we could send all of our morons to DC. Maybe we could save our state.

  5. Squatlo says:

    Please, Mooner, for the love of god (or god of love) keep them there in Texas in order to minimize the damage they’re capable of legislating…

    And that orange you so glibbly (glibbly?) dismissed was based on the color of a specific species of daisy that grew on “The Hill” where Neyland Stadium stands today. Also, and the University doesn’t advertise this factoid, it was the color of the sleeve trim and collars on Confederate uniforms of the Army of Tennessee. We’re just blaming the flowers.

  6. admin says:

    Squat. In the recent past when we sent our Bozos to DC it was to a diluted gene pool. Now there are too many clowns in one place.

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