Garden Fresh: Tomato Race, Over

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There it is--The Tomato. That's what I got from three months of planting, watering and fertilizing.

I had high hopes as flowers appeared on the vine, then tiny balls emerged and grew into large green tomatoes. The squirrels ran past, back and forth, ignoring the bounty of fruit as it slowly turned to pink, then orange.

I risked three more days for the largest tomato to ripen from orange to red. Then I picked it.

That was the end. Just minutes after carrying The Tomato up front and taking a photo, I returned to the garden to find two squirrels munching on the rest of the green and pink cluster of tomatoes. Rodents!

Apparently, after I picked the first tomato, the remaining stem sent out an olfactory signal to start a feeding frenzy. In the next 24 hours, every green tomato larger than a golf ball disappeared from the vine. Goodbye to you.

Was The Tomato worth all the trouble? After it sat in the kitchen for three days to fully ripen, I sliced it. Pure tomato heaven, red as blood, low acidity, and a flavor like nothing I've ever bought in a store. Ever.

Another part of my brain wished I hadn't eaten it, for the same reason: I'll be haunting farmers' markets to get any tomato that remotely matches that flavor. Store-bought tomatoes are dead to me.

Will I do it again next Valentine's Day? Notes to myself:

  • Build a tomato cage of wire mesh small enough to keep out squirrels.
  • Buy the Champion variety. It grew twice as fast as the Celebrity, Carnival, and Top Gun plants, and produced The Tomato in less than three months.
  • Give each plant a gallon of water every day. Fertilize every two weeks.
  • Finally, if there's any evidence for intelligent design of the universe, it's that tomatoes and Vidalia onions come into season at the same time, for a sandwich: 2 slices tomato, 2 thin slices Vidalia , mayo, optional Dijon, salt and pepper on Nine Grain and Honey from Central Market. I'll never put "health" and "food" next to each other, but that's as deliciously close as it gets.

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