Monday, July 26, 2004


It's hard to believe just how far off the deep end I've gone, especially when I remember my initial feelings on the matter.  Up until ten years ago I could not even imagine eating a tomato.  As a small child I refused to eat pizza because it there was tomato sauce on it.  To my way of thinking tomatoes were an unfinished food item.  They were firm on the outside which was fine, but when you cut them open they oozed fluid the consistency of snot and that goo had seeds in it!  No way was I putting that in my mouth.  Add to that the fact that the most repulsive worm I'd ever seen trolled up and down the vines with an evil looking spike on it's butt, well, that just made tomatoes all the more repulsive to me.

Then I decided to grow some tomatoes thinking that I would just give them to people as gifts.  I was looking for the immediate gratification of a hearty plant that would quickly produce tangible results of my labor and tomatoes pretty much grow like weeds.  On the first attempt I grew the most amazingly beautiful vines which were abundant with blossoms that I promptly killed when I saw one of those dreaded worms and grabbed my bottle of organic bug killer and realized only after dousing the entire tomato bush that I had mistakenly picked up a spray bottle of the acid you spray on tire rims to clean them.  Bummer.

I started over and when harvest time arrived I just couldn't help but try a little wedge of the warm, ripe, perfectly shaped red ball.  And it was good.  It was really good.  I found that I didn't mind the oozing goo because it was sweet and I didn't even notice the seeds.  I got hooked on homegrown tomatoes and soon became a fanatic.

Last weekend I went to dinner at The Globe in Venice.  The kitchen sent out a beautiful heirloom tomato salad which was basically just sliced tomatoes sprinkled with a little crumbling of feta cheese and some olive oil.  The tomatoes were all different colors and sizes and although they were not perfectly shaped - they were beautiful and very tasty.  My first crop of tomatoes vines that went into the ground in March had finished ripening and I wanted to plant something new.  I started doing some research on heirloom tomatoes and I found Hayground Organic Gardening - a wonderful business owned and operated by Jimmy Sullivan who is a modern day Mr. GreenJeans. 

I called Jimmy and he said that I could come see him at 8am on Saturday before he left for Descanso Gardens.  Since I was going to a wine tasting I knew that might be a tad early for me, but I was too excited to wait, so I decided to suck it up and make the appointment.  Jimmy sells at the Farmer's Market in Hollywood on Sundays, but he said that I'd have to get there really early because he usually sells out of the heirloom tomato plants first thing.  I decided I'd rather do "really early" with less people. 

Saturday morning my hangover from the fabulously fun winetasting from the night before where I met really nice people whose names I don't remember, woke me up at about 6:30a.m.  I was afraid to go back to sleep because I knew I'd probably not wake up and I'd miss my appointment.  It was a good thing I had an hour to get my eyes open because my eyelids were glued to my eyeballs and I had to drink about a liter of water before I was able to get vertical.  Thank God my neighbor wanted to go because I was driving straight into the rising sun and couldn't see any of the street names.  I overshot by a couple blocks and had to make a U-turn, but I was so grateful not to have the laser beams from the sun searing my retinas it seemed like a fortuitous event prior to actually having to execute the turn.  I find right turns much easier to make than left turns across oncoming traffic while blinded by the sun.  It was about this point when I realized I might still be drunk.

When we got to Jimmy's house, the street was silent and peaceful.  He was out in the side yard watering and it was like entering a botanical zoo.  My neighbor was so excited to be there her voice went up about 3 octaves piercing the pastoral silence of his garden and bouncing off my brain like a blast of thrash metal.  I couldn't help it but I shushed her shrill enthusiasm, pretending to be concerned for the neighbors whose house was not even 10 feet away and who were probably still be sleeping.  

One of the first things I saw was a Habenero chili tree when I placed my hand on it to steady myself.  It was covered with bright orange peppers dangling off of it like jewelry, very rare and very expensive.  I inquired about the chocolate Habanero chilis I'd heard he sells, but he was all out.  The scents of freshly watered herbs enveloped me as Jimmy led me back to the tomatoes growing in their half-gallon cans.  I specifically wanted the Goosecreek tomatoes, an heirloom variety that's been in Jimmy's family for over 100 years.  Heirloom seeds are passed down from generation to generation - the Goosecreek heirloom is apparently really popular because my name is now on a waiting list for the SECOND planting!  I'm also on the list for the chocolate Habaneros because I'm thinking mole for the fall! 

As a novice going in - knowing pretty much nothing - I was grateful for Jimmy's guidance.  He has over 1000 varieties of rare and heirloom vegetables and he is so knowledgeable about organic gardening.  If I had a yard and a lot of money I would so totally hire him to come and design an edible, organic garden.  Jimmy not only grows the plants he is also a landscape designer who uses edible plants in his design elements.  How cool is that?  I hadn't gotten much further in my research than locating a supplier so I had no idea what I wanted, but they all had such wonderful names like Marianna's Peace, Hillybilly, Mr. Stripey, Mortgage Lifter, Marizol Gold, Eva Purple Ball, etc.   I was so hungover I couldn't really think straight and I ended up buying ten different kinds of tomatoes.  I will be sharing them with everyone I know because as much as I now love tomatoes I can't eat all that I will be harvesting.  I also bought some Vietnamese cilantro and some more basil and some beautiful strawberries and he threw in a pretty green herb that's used in Japanese cooking that tastes kind of seaweedy.  Jimmy also has worm casings and every other thing that you might need for organic gardening.  He's also got all the answers to the problems I had with the last batch of tomatoes, e.g. leaves that die for no good reason. 

All in all I spent about $100 and had a helluva time filling out all the necessary areas on the check.  We could barely get all the stuff into my little car, there's still dirt all over the backseat.  We were home in an hour and I decided that since I was up and in love with my new tomato plants, not to mention the fact that I had just made a fairly substantial financial commitment, we should amend the soil with the manual roto-tiller and put everything in the ground.  I have been known to buy plants and not get around to actually planting them because it's a lot of work to make the soil ready.  After a sweaty, dirty hour it was all done and I felt like I had lived a lifetime.  I probably would've enjoyed it more without the hangover - I felt like I had lived a lifetime and it was only 10a.m.

Yesterday I went here and found some of the tomatoes that I bought.  They're going to be beautiful pink and yellow and orange and red, and I can't wait to share them with any and all who love tomatoes!  The worms still gross me out but now I can't think of anything better than a tomato fresh off the vine, sliced and sprinkled with a little salt.  Yum!

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