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By Paul Bendix

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About this blog: A 32-year resident of Menlo Park, I regularly make my way around downtown in a wheelchair. This gives me an unusual perspective on a town in which I have spent almost half of my life. I was educated at UC Berkeley, and permanentl...  (More)

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Attack of the Memory-Killing Tomatoes

Uploaded: May 16, 2014
I don't know how they kill my memory,,,but I know why. To make me forget how much money I annually dump into home gardening.

What's a writer guy in a wheelchair doing with soil conditioners and plant ties? A long story. Suffice it to say, this is now my hobby. This year two wheelchair-height beds are already into serious production. Lettuce, garlic, carrots and, of course, tomatoes.

Writing for an agricultural biotechnology firm in the 1990s, I read endless tracts about soil salinity, bacillus thuringiensis, dent corn...and a host of other agrarian matters. Strange stuff to an urban guy. But foreign enough to be fascinating.

Which over the years has led to a significant capital investment. This includes a compost tumbler, tomato cages, a succession of sprinkler systems and bags and bags of additives, supplements and cures. Thus, suburban agronomy.

Thing is, all this gardening stuff gets stored every winter, deep in our garage. In the spring no one can find it. You never had any blood meal, my brother insists. What's a tomato cage, asks my wife. Over time, some of this agricultural gear turns up, and the rest I buy, again.

The compost tumbler is a jolly thing. Round and round it goes. Good compost shouldn't smell, according to the instructions. Mine does. And as the weather warms, and the compost ripens, I start to get nervous. We do have neighbors, after all. I turn to our weekly landscape maintenance guy to bury the stuff. He digs a massive hole between two fledgling tomato plants. In it goes. Free fertilizer, right?

Not exactly, by the time I pay the gardener. Besides, I'm nervous. These tomatoes look awfully small. Last year weren't there more? And weren't they bigger? Better buy some organic tomato fertilizer from the local hardware store, in fact, two bags, just to make sure. Chicken manure. Alfalfa stalks. Feather meal. Not bad, and only $14 each. And, look, they're selling kelp fertilizer. That's the thing about Menlo Park, a real shortage of kelp. Better get some of this too.

As for the actual tomato plants, I have already saved money by using last year's volunteers. Remember the compost tumbler? One thing that tumbles out absolutely unchanged is the tomato seeds from the 2013 crop. They neither decompose nor transform. But they do sprout by the hundreds. Volunteering, for active duty, every spring.

Problem is, I didn't like some of last year's tomatoes. Particularly the black ones, a novelty purchased at the Sunday farmer's market. Naturally, I can't tell which volunteer is which. Just to make sure, I buy a couple of different ones. Early Girls promise an early harvest. Plus a couple of heirloom varieties. Which, as soon as I'm home, reveal that they are not resistant to the bane of tomato farming, fusarium wilt. Pretty cool that I know this stuff, right? Better go back and buy a couple of wilt-resistant plants.

Of course, my tomato memory having been wiped out completely, I have also forgotten the other thing about these plants. They grow. The indeterminate ones...note the technical term...grow (you guessed it) indeterminately. Indefinitely, might be a more precise description. What is also growing is my tomato budget. Based on production estimates, this year's investment approximates $8 per tomato. Last year's figure was probably about the same. But, as I say, I have forgotten.
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