• You say Tomato, I say…HELP!

    Tomato WormI’ve been living in Arizona for so long I consider myself a native. Even so, I can’t get my yard to look good. I don’t mean Wisteria Lane good, I mean average Arizona yard good. Truth is, had I placed a headstone by every plant I killed over the years, my yard would look like a highly populated cemetery. Instead, it’s a weed metropolis, with the occasional valiant rose-bush struggling to attain the good life. Two things I know for sure about plants and gardening. First, the grass is always greener over the septic tank. That I learned from beloved Erma Bombeck who knew Arizona well. And second, Cholla does jump, I found that out by personal proximity and have the pictures to prove it.

    I made peace with my lack of gardening skills, and at one point, I even considered spray painting my crushed granite a lovely green to impress the neighbors. But just about that time I had a visitor from Great Britain, as I drove him around proudly showing off other people’s magnificent yards, he asked: “Why are you Americans covering your yards with cat litter?” I was driving at the time and given my limitations as a driver, I couldn’t let go of the steering wheel to slug him, so I said in my sweetest tone of voice, ”Why, darling, we got the idea from the English Embassy’s gardens. Too bad they are closed for remodeling or I could drive you by.” He left the next day, and I decided to pass on the paint job.

    Back then, when I was still blaming the weather for my failures, I moved into a house with mature vegetation (harder to kill) and a vegetable garden. Well, it had a couple of tomato plants in the side yard, but to me they were sort of a miracle. In just a few weeks, I was able to harvest the first tomatoes and made a small batch of fresh tomato sauce for my pasta. I spent the next three hours on the phone calling everyone (including my sisters in Italy) to brag about my wonderful vegetable garden. This was great. I did nothing but watch the plants grow and boast about my tomatoes until my friends got tired of hearing about Freda and Josie. Yes, I named the plants. Then, one sunny afternoon I came back from running errands, put on my brand new prescription glasses and went out to talk to Freda. It was about time to pick tomatoes again, and as I kneeled to admire their blush, I noticed something I had never seen before…a green worm? It had no legs and was well fed and color coordinated with the tomato leaves. No!

    This was before Google, so I had no idea what these green worms were or why they had taken up residence in my plants. I decided to take action. I put on ski boots and gloves, grabbed the broom and went back out. I lifted leaves with the broom handle. Holy cannoli. The creatures were having a convention in my vegetable garden. My first instinct was to burn the whole thing and be done with it, but good sense prevailed and with my ski gloves on I removed the ripe tomatoes from the plants, brought them in, and left them to soak in the sink. Back outside, I swung the broom back and forth trying to scare away those buggers. When I stopped to catch my breath I could have sworn I heard laughter coming from under the leaves. I donated the plants to a friend and went back to purchasing canned tomatoes. I never did tell my sisters.

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