I have never had success gardening. With the exception of a few tomatoes (literally a total of three over the past several years) that appeared to be of the ‘sun-dried’ variety, my batting average is zero.
It’s not for lack of effort. I start the seeds, carefully placing their perfectly compact soil pods in the miniature plastic grow house on the windowsill above our kitchen sink every spring. This is the windowsill I had my father-in-law build precisely for this reason; so I could watch seedlings hatch. If summer gardening started and ended on our sill, I would surely be teaching workshops. My seedlings are impressive.
But I am notorious for not allowing time for the metaphorical glue to dry. I am genetically impatient. This can mean that I pull the cake out of the oven before it is done (fooled every time). And this can mean that I put the seedlings outside long before it is safe (My one self telling my other self that he can’t wait another minute…let’s get summer going!).
This year, it was May 14 when I transferred my little beauties to their new home consisting of a meticulously prepared fluffy patch of garden soil enriched with an expensive mix of organic store-bought bat crap. I prepped more than I have ever prepped before.“You need to cover them with milk jugs,” my mother-in-law said. She grew up on a farm. Everything she ever ate she grew or raised. But you see, besides not having the patience for processes to take shape, I tend to lean towards form over function. This means no filmy plastic jugs wrecking the aesthetic form of what I am hoping will be a functional garden. Instead, I created wind barriers protecting each little plant using old firewood. I was quite pleased with the rustic outcome. I am not sure the seedlings were.
Three days later the weather, right on cue, turned unseasonably cold. I noticed my plants looking pale as if they were hypothermic. Here we go, I thought. I have always harbored a theory that my hasty decisions have the power to effect markets, the flow of local traffic, and weather. On this same day, I noticed the hummingbirds were strangely absent. I envisioned them knowing something I didn’t – like that a late-season blizzard was brewing somewhere off the Galapagos and rapidly heading in this direction. I imagined my tiny tomato plants pleading with the hummingbirds to please, please rescue them from certain doom as they packed their bags for a lower elevation. “Take us with you, you prissy little bastards. Please. We beg of you,” they would say.
It snowed on the night of May 18. Around 11p.m., I was putting bottomless milk jugs on the plants. Do you leave the cap on? I forgot to ask. If so, how would they breathe? Are they even alive? They look like hell. Caps off. But the heat will escape. Caps on. I truly feel like I have let these little guys down…again…but hell, I am trying to cut nightshades out of my diet right now (another diet fad). Maybe the little darlings know this? Maybe they know that my heart isn’t that into it.
Instead of a persnickety tomato, plant something else, I hear you say. I have and failed. Cucumbers, which my wife hates and I have a lifelong indifference towards. Peppers, which really don’t count as a food. Cilantro. This we would eat if we could get it to grow…but again, not exactly a plant known for providing sustenance. Strawberries, which I am not sure even grow at this altitude but will never find out because the birds eat the berries long before they turn red (but at least I am feeding something). And lettuce (don’t ask me what kind), which we have had a hint of success with. Success, that is, until the rabbits show up with their wire cutters, their in-laws, and a picnic blanket.
If you share my problem, help can be found on this website. Five crucial tips on how to grow a tomato on a mountain. It is too late for me. But, we hope, right on time for you. ϕ