Gardening with a competitive edge
There’s a lot of satisfaction in growing your own food, but the endeavor takes on a whole new meaning when you add a little competition to the mix. If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years…gardeners are a competitive lot.
I believe for me this is a genetic trait. When I was a kid I can remember fierce matches between my father and his buddy, Smitty, concerning who could grow the best red potatoes. For years they verbally bantered this point until us kids grew old enough to join 4-H, then a fair judge got to determine the most delectable spuds. I can distinctly recall the loud and raucous shouts in the big exhibition barn when my Dad’s potatoes beat Smitty’s, but conversely there were also years when under-the-breath cursing took place when the prize ribbon wasn’t the right color.
My very first vegetable competition took place when a friend of mine challenged me to a cucumber competition. I found some seeds that produced really long specimens and diligently tended the plants, watching with great anticipation as my crop grew and grew. This guy was a long-time cucumber grower so I felt like I was entering a David and Goliath type of match, but, I’d like to proudly report, I only lost by a mere inch when all was said and done.
Then one year I decided to grow competition worthy pumpkins. Atlantic Giants by name, the plants of this vegetable grew octopus like vines that climbed and crawled all over the garden, into the yard, even climbing the nearby trees. It seemed as if some alien green monster was taking over the homestead. However, the pumpkin I produced looked like an amorphous yellow blob which never quite ripened before it was turned into mush by an early frost.
This year, thanks to my friend, Tyrone Schave, I am in a tomato plant growing contest. Faithful readers of this column will recall the story I did on Tyrone last year when he grew a tomato plant that was over 20 foot tall. He actually had to climb a ladder to harvest his crop and admittedly, I was in awe.
About a month ago, Tyrone graciously volunteered to come out to my garden and actually plant a tomato so I too could grow my own jaw-dropping specimen. I agreed, thinking there really couldn’t be much to it, but as I came to find out, I was wrong.
Before the big day I told my friend, Eli Stojsavljevic, about Tyrone’s giant plants and he decided to come over and observe the planting procedure and help. I explained that when you are growing vegetables plants in competition matches, extraordinary measures have to be taken.
When Tyrone arrived with his wife Sylvia, who is also my good friend, and started unloading arm loads of tools from his trunk, my eyes popped open with surprise. Shovels, mallets, spikes were all hauled out to the select spot I had chosen to grow the plant. Then Tyrone and Eli dug a huge hole, two feet across and two feet deep. They mixed composted manure to the dirt from the hole and then strategically filled it in. Tyrone explained it isn’t the type of tomato that grows big but how the plant is actually planted that allows such tall specimens.
Once the tiny sprout was in the ground we all decided that maybe a contest was in order. First we thought fruit count would be an accurate way to determine the winner, but realizing my lack luster bookkeeping methods, I talked the group into a height measurement instead. And while Tyrone and I are the competitors, Sylvia was elected head cheerleader and Eli will serve as the official referee.
So once again I’m in another competition and making twice daily (or more) trips to the garden to observe this plant. It now has a triple fence around it to keep out the critters and if even one tiny weed sprout appears it is quickly plunked from the area. The plant has been fertilized at strategic times throughout these last weeks and fervent and beseeching prayers to the Tomato Growing Creator are sent up daily, usually while I’m hovering protectively over the specimen.
So, Tyrone, I am, as a good-sport competitor, wishing you all the best with your tomato plant. Like they say in the world of fierce competition… may the best man win.
Tomato and Cucumber Salad
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbs. white sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 large cucumbers
3 large tomatoes
2/3 chopped red onion
½ cup chopped fresh mint
1 tsp. fresh or dried dill
2 Tbs. olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
In a large bowl combine vinegar, sugar and salt. Peel, deseed and slice cucumbers and place in vinegar mixture for one hour. Slice tomatoes into chucks then add them and the onion, mint, dill and olive oil with cucumbers. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.