Hoping for Happy Tomatoes with Mount Washington's Microfarmers

Kim Axelrod Ohanneson

(Originally published in Patch, http://highlandpark-ca.patch.com/articles/hoping-for-happy-tomatoes-with-mount-washingtons-microfarmers on July 2, 2011)

The morning June gloom had long been burnt away by sunset when the Mount Washington Microfarmers and Gardening Group gathered for their most recent meeting.

Temperatures are still cool enough to encourage me to hike up "The Hill" to the meeting and to still entertain the possibility of starting a vegetable garden this year--albeit a potted one on my balcony.

On garden meeting days, my hopes are always high and my enthusiasm boundless.

As I hustle up "The Hill," I pause on Mount Washington Drive to gaze past hazy Downtown to the distant hump of the Palos Verdes peninsula.  Walking along San Rafael Drive, I eagle-eye garden beds for landscape ideas.  I turn the corner onto Avenue 37 and pick up my pace as I see the microfarmers gathered around test gardener Connie Rohman’s showpiece front yard effort.

The view is pretty spectacular.  Connie’s four raised beds are a sea of variegated greens, spotted with the wine-scarlet of chard stems and purplish, dirt-encrusted beets. 

It’s hard for a writer to see overflowing produce and not conjure vegetable aphorisms.  I mentally sing the lyric from Oklahoma!  when I see that Connie’s “corn is as high as an elephant’s eye.” (Maybe a baby elephant.) 

Her garden mint springs a vibrant bushy green from the pebbled ground, bringing to mind the saying, “Plant the mint and get out of the way!” And as we peer at the pale celadon globes of unripe tomatoes, I think of the saying, “It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.”

Who couldn’t use some pleasant thoughts these days?

I immediately move tomatoes to the top of my constantly shifting, “Must Have” garden list. It’s like my fantasy football team.

The sun lances into the west windows of hostess Natalie Seaman’s home as Microform mover-and-shaker Anna Carpenter brings us up to speed.  The current goal of the group is to help two more microfarmers start raised bed gardens using the “lasagna” method.  I was out of town and missed the last meeting when Natalie and fellow gardener Norma D’Andrea were chosen as the latest lucky microfarmers. My goal this meeting?  Finagle my way on to the lucky list of gardeners.

It proved surprisingly easy.  I don’t need to practice psychic stealth craft--merely ask.

Norma has discovered that a local lumber store will build boxes for the raised beds for a good price. I mention my bad back and knee, which are not my excuse for being a loser gardener--that’s my black thumb. Neighborhood gardening guru Rick Days quickly sketches a design for a box with a reinforced bottom that can be placed atop concrete blocks. All I have to do is measure the space designated for my one and a half raised beds.

My mind is so abuzz with excitement that it’s hard to concentrate on visiting gardener Nina Zippay’s mention of involving her Girl Scout troop or Anna and Rick’s debate over the merits of soaker hoses versus drip irrigation. For the record, Anna prefers the ease of soaker hoses, as opposed to Rick, who opts for the clog-free joys of drip irrigation.

Like Scarlett O’Hara, my heart swells with love for the land!

I fall asleep, my mind spinning with thoughts of corn and cucumbers, beets and broccoli, eggplants and endive. And tomatoes--happy, happy tomatoes.

The next morning, I race out to my back 40 (feet, not acres) to measure my future patch of paradise and quickly crash back to reality.  In my mind, the little plot is as flat as a pancake but, in actuality, the section slopes badly and The sadly sliding slope. Credit Kim Axelrod Ohannesonthe tiny wall on the downward slope is crumbling.  Still, I measure and stake and plot angles and squint at the sun before finally facing facts--I’m going to have to level out the garden area before I plant my green acreage, which will take more pocket cabbage than I have right now.

All that non-mind manipulation for nothing…

Undaunted, I think of pleasant thoughts and homegrown tomatoes.  My happy future.  Credit Kim Axelrod OhannesonI think of balconies and pots and the Small Black Dog keeping raccoons away from my radishes.  I zip off down the Hill and come back with a carload of pots (18” deep, per garden maven Kathleen Days), soil, watering devices (soaker hoses for the bottom slopes, drip irrigation for the pots), a zucchini seedling, a cucumber plant, a pot of cilantro, and, of course, a tomato plant.

I cheat and get a plant that’s already sprouting a tomato. I had nothing to do with growing this particular tomato but it gives me pleasant thoughts just looking at it.

As for the garden beds?   Like Scarlett, I’ll think about that tomorrow.



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