For 40 years, I’ve grown tomatoes from seed. Sometimes I save seed, if I really love the particular tomato, or someone passes along seeds they think I might like. I have favourites–Principe Borghese, which make a beautiful roasted sauce (I still have jars of it the freezer from last year, though I use a jar or so every week); Pruden’s Purple; Black Krim; a couple of yellow pears that reliably appear in the compost; and others. In early May I put the seedlings on the upper deck, usually around 30-40 of them, and when they get tall, we train them onto strings that are fastened to a hanging stick. (The rows continue around to the right of this photograph, around the blue-windowed sunroom, turning a corner under John’s study, and around another corner. This place is optimum but the plants thrive around the corner too.)

last year, mid-May

In May and June, it seems they grow hourly. They are part of the season’s clock. I know where I am by the size of the tomato plants.

Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.

When they flower, they’re visited by bees and other pollinators. I’ve noticed over the years that Bombus vosnesenskii, the yellow-faced bumblebee, is particularly fond of tomatoes. Last year my grandson A and I decided that those particular bees looked like they were wearing helmets from Ancient Greece when you got close to them and saw their markings. Last year he helped me water the upper deck on the mornings of his visit, after our early swim, and then we had coffee and juice at the table, surrounded by flowers.

roof 2


This year I am having trouble even growing the seeds. I do what I’ve always done: plant them thinly in small trays in good starting mix. I keep them by the woodstove. I mist them. Oh, they germinate, they form seed-leaves but the first true leaves, the sign (for me) that it’s time to prick them out and put each in its own pot? This is the strangest thing. The little sprouts stop at the seed leaves. I got impatient with the first lot and pricked them out anyway but none survived. The second lot, Pruden’s Purple, are doing the same thing. I have two more flats, of Paul Robeson, a new-to-me cultivar, a big slicing tomato, supposedly, with dark shoulders; I say supposedly because I’m waiting for them to form their true leaves and they’re reluctant. It seems that even the tomatoes are nervous about the state of the world.

Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.

I feel like Cassandra these days. (Remember her? The daughter of Priam of Troy, with the gift of prophesy, but no one believed her?) The other day in a nursery down the Coast, I was buying some plants–not tomatoes, not yet, but it looks like it will come to that–and the man at the cash desk commented on the capricious weather. It was cold that day, with rain and a bitter wind. He said that better weather is supposedly on its way. I replied that it was scary. That I’d lived in one place for more than 40 years and that this is the coldest spring I can remember. He murmured something, I couldn’t quite hear, and then I said, And we did this to the planet we supposedly love. At that point he quickly put my plants in a box, eager to be rid of me. I get it. No one wants an aging woman with wild hair carrying on at the cash desk when you have work to do — putting out bags of seed potatoes and watering the annuals.

Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

And now I am being careful about what I wish for. Warmer days, yes, but not too hot (the ability of bees to both pollinate and to reproduce decreases in extreme heat). Nights without frost. The third planting of tomato seeds (better late than never?) growing to full size, heavy with fruit, the pans of them roasting with garlic, rosemary, quarters of onions, the beautiful mutilated world somehow surviving, surviving us.

last year's bounty

Note: the lines of poetry are from “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” by Adam Zagajewski, trans. Clare Cavanagh.

9 thoughts on “tomatoes”

  1. Oh yes, the mutilated world … And yes, we the wild old women, the Cassandras, who see it and mourn. Your tomatoes are beautiful, Theresa. Let’s hope the next batch flourish.

  2. Coincidence: I just came across a stack of copies of the Zagsjewski poem today. Used it for a writing class. Had to let them go in recycling. Am fiercely getting rid of things. Reading is hard now and there is no point keeping all this paper.

      1. Ah, memory is increasingly an issue. Short term mostly but not only. What I read I don’t retain so it feels pointless. Trying to decide what to do with diaries. Stacks of them.

      2. That’s a hard one. My papers went to UVic but I didn’t include journals for the most part. (I’m only a faithful diarist when I travel.) I’m glad to have them here for revisiting when I write, as I recently did, about something that happened 45 years ago. But I don’t think I want to leave them for my children.

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