Tomato planting day, or yet another triumph of gardening hope over experience

This morning was not like every other Saturday at my farmers’ market, because in addition to buying food I paid for some pre-food–as in, I spent $8 or so on a couple of tomato plants that are now tucked into a planter.

A tiny San Marzano tomato plant inside a planter on my driveway.

I’ve been making this once-a-year purchase for almost two decades, more if I tried to grow tomatoes on the balcony of my old condo. (I don’t think so, but it can be hard to document things that happened in the pre-smartphone era.) And most of those years have yielded more lessons than fruit–about the importance of having caging or netting to stop squirrels from chomping on your crop, about ensuring the plants are in a spot with enough sun, about remembering to water them enough, about… well, needing better luck at growing tomatoes.

As a native New Jerseyan, I feel like I should be better at this. We do tomatoes well in the Garden State, so a little built-in aptitude ought to be some sort of birthright–like making pizza. Instead, the Jersey parallel here seems to be Thomas Edison’s optimistic read on experiments not going as planned: “I have not failed 10,000 times—I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”

In that spirit, this year I only bought two plants–one San Marzano plum, one Better Boy beefsteak–instead of trying to raise my odds by buying more plants and then finding the planter crowded in August. Yes, I should have tried that before, and maybe I will be pleasantly surprised by finally taking the hint. But even if my $8 investment only rewards me with a handful of tomatoes over the season, the BLTs I make with tomatoes still warm from the sun will be among the finest sandwiches I’ll eat all year.


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