It’s officially summer now in my mouth: The tomatoes are finally ripe enough to pick and eat.
My husband and I have been in homegrown-tomato withdrawal since June last year. There’s no cure for this addiction. So when the tomatoes “come in,” we head out to our veggie garden, pick a few red or golden globes, and eat them with nearly every meal. Sometimes Bob doesn’t even make it into the house before he chomps into a tomato. I can always tell when his resistance is low—tomato seeds cling to his t-shirt amid trails of red juice.
We planted 40 tomato plants this year in our 50 foot by 75 foot garden. There are many varieties: some big beefy tomatoes whose slices will cover a grilled burger easily, romas and amish paste for making spaghetti sauce, early ones that lead the ripening parade, and tiny pop-in-your-mouth tomatoes with pretty names like Juliette and Yellow Pear, and some sunny yellow tomatoes with less acid.
Our vegetable garden yields more than tomatoes, however: We plant and harvest watermelon, french melons, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, butternut squash, eggplant, 4 kinds of green beans, sugar snap beans, 4 kinds of onions, and bell and salsa peppers of different colors and levels of “heat.”
Tending the veggie garden is a family exercise (and I do mean exercise!). My sister and her husband join Bob and me in planning the garden and planting and maintaining it, which means a lot of weeding! We start in March each year to decide what to plant and where each plant will go in the garden plot (we do rotate our crops). Bob treats the soil in the spring to control weeds, then as soon as the weather permits, he tills the ground 3 or 4 times to loosen the beautiful dark soil (we are blessed to have 8 feet of topsoil straight down with no rocks or clay). He loves tilling with the Troy-Bilt roto tiller that the Poor Clares in Cincinnati gave us.
About 7 years ago, I read in the monthly newsletter of the Franciscans of St. John the Baptist Province, my employers, that the Clares had a tiller they wanted to get rid of. I knew we wanted one, so Bob and I hopped in our pickup truck and retrieved the tiller, which did not run at the time. (Bob, a mechanical engineer, found a mouse nest in the tiller’s motor case, and once he cleaned out the nest, the tiller ran just fine!) The Clares wanted no money for the tiller so we told the good women that we would share our vegetable harvest with them as payment for the tiller.
So every summer, when the garden begins to yield its bounty, we set aside bags of green beans, zukes, cukes, tomatoes and other veggies for the Poor Clares. I usually stop at their monastery on my way to work in the morning, driving up the winding road to their secluded and woody residence-chapel. I set the bags of veggies at their front door and will press the doorbell only if I know the Clares aren’t attending daily Mass.
This summer, at one early drop-off, one of the Clares came to their monastery door, and after thanking me for the veggies, asked if I wanted their compost bin. She showed me the large black, plastic bin that looked like one of Ricky Ricardo’s conga drums, and I said, “Sure.” So 2 weeks later, when there was a break in the heat and humidity here in Cincinnati, Bob and I retrieved the compost bin and took it home to set it up at the end of our onion patch. We’ve started filling the bin already, with scraps from veggies and fruit and flowers.
We share our harvest with others, too: nieces and nephews and other family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. We joke that we should set up a roadside stand in our rural community!
This year, in an effort to track our yield, my sister-the-teacher (who once worked in a greenhouse and who I call “Miss Flora Fauna”) bought a Cuisinart kitchen scale to weigh our produce. We were amazed to learn that so far this summer we have harvested over 100 pounds of green beans alone!
We take great pride in our gardening effort, knowing that with some, well, really a LOT of physical effort and a modest outlay of cash to purchase plants and materials to fence the garden and make it deer-resistant, we feed many mouths. Our garden work keeps us eating healthy in the summer, keeps us physically agile with lots of bending, stretching, lifting, and carrying, and provides us with a great sense of accomplishment.
And too, gardening allows us to feel one with our earth and closer to God. We live side by side with Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Mother Earth, Sister Water. We give thanks for the fruits of our garden, for the sense of community that our efforts create, and for the abilities to tend and work the soil.
We thank the Lord for Holy Tomato!
All photos by Lisa