It sometimes seems to me there are ‘totemic’ crops if you aspire to being a ‘proper gardener’. For me, two of the few are potatoes and tomatoes. The trouble of course is they are also those most prone to disease. There has been blight at Branch Hill for ever, since way before we were there. Every year without fail, they fail.
For our first couple years we would nurture tomatoes from seed, worry about them at work if the weather was cold or wet, like they were newborn lambs. We would replant them to the plot, watch the fruit form, take shape and allow ourselves to hope (there is a longer post to be written one day about hope, inherent to our gardening). We would watch as the fruit firmed and took colour. We would cast an anxious eye over the other plots for signs of brown leaf. And of course the blight would invade and lay them low, like cancer, eating away at their soul.
We took to buying strong super-healthy seedlings (somehow the hurt when they sickened wasn’t quite the same). Then I started having a few plants in pots at home. I needed somehow the delicious pleasure of picking sun-ripened, warm fruit. I have even taken salt and olive oil with me while I check for the perfect tomato.
I will skip over the trauma of digging slushed, diseased spuds, their creeping sickness previously hidden from sight. Potatoes feel somehow (I am not sure quite why) more ‘important’ to grow. It’s maybe because they start in winter, their first leaves one of the first signs of spring. But it also may be linked to my memories of digging them with my foster father, to be eaten within the hour.
I am still picking tomatoes from the three pots on the roof. I can see their struggle for warmth and can feel their life-force slow. But today, towards the end of October, we will eat outdoor toms with our supper. I am sure my foster father would approve.
But do you, too, grow crops which feel totemic to you, and why?
17 10 2012