The $1,000 tomato


If you live in Georgia, then you must have a garden. And if you have a garden, then you must grow tomatoes. It’s the law.

At least that’s what The Wife told me when she asked where her homegrown tomatoes were. Those would be the ones I didn’t plant in the spring like everyone else. Now, in the heat of July, I’m out planting tomato plants.

But that’s the end of the story; the beginning actually starts a long time ago – in the backyard of 110 Flamingo Street.

As far back as I can remember, growing up at 110 Flamingo Street, we had a garden. And by “we,” I mean Dad. It was his garden, but as I remember, we did most of the work. And by “we,” I mean my three brothers, my sister, and me.

And what does a garden from our childhood have to do with the $1,000 tomato in my front yard today? Patience, dear reader, this story will grow on you.

Throughout the summer and fall, Mom and The Sister spent hours in the kitchen canning and freezing produce from the garden. But long before that could take place, the garden had to be planted, and before planting, the soil had to be prepared.

Soil prepping was the job of my brothers and me. For hours we were dragged behind a huge red tiller. Quickly, the blisters grew on our hands as it lurched from one side of the garden to the other, pounding hard clay into fine dirt.

It was just a matter of time before one of us hit a rock the size of a basketball. The unfortunate soul trying to hold onto the machine was thrown off to watch helplessly as the tiller lumbered its way out of the garden, down the hill, and into its final destination – Cripple Creek.

For some strange reason, this always happened to me. The next hour was spent trying to rescue the huge machine from its watery grave – all the time being laughed at by my other brothers. It wasn’t until years later that I learned Big Brother James was the one who, each year, planted the rock the night before.

After about six weeks, the garden was full of vegetables that needed picking and weeds that needed pulling. During the growing season, Dad’s battle cry to us boys was simple, direct, and exhausting, “Get the green out!”

To Dad, a garden was a labor of love. To us kids, it just was labor – lots and lots of back-breaking labor.

Well, all those blisters, digging, and deep water rescues are a thing of the past. There’s a new sheriff in town, and his name is raised bed gardening. Just build raised beds, four feet wide and eight feet long. Bingo! No more tiller machine in the creek – in fact, no more tilling at all.

Raised beds can be made out of any material. I chose PVC white fencing. Just like Tinker Toys, they cut and snap together. Unfortunately, it’s a special order at the big hardware store with the orange roof. Final cost of fencing to make two raised garden beds: $200.

The next item was a must-buy: super tough weed block to go under the raised beds. Two rolls of super tough weed block: $50.

Why two rolls? I really hated pulling weeds as a kid on Flamingo Street. I’m certainly not going to pull them now that I’m an adult. Besides, that’s what The Boy is for.
Now that the raised beds are built and weed block is installed, it’s time to fill the beds with dirt. This is where it gets really expensive.

Each bed had to be filled with a special mixture of peat moss, vermiculite, and compost. And as any connoisseur of compost knows, the best comes from three different sources: cows, chickens, and mushrooms.

How you get compost from a mushroom I have no idea, but I bought four 50-pound bags. With The Wife out of town for a week and me with no truck, I did the only logical thing: folded the seats down and loaded all the compost into the back of her car. Now I know what you are thinking, but it was okay. I rode back home with all the windows down. Total cost of the special dirt mixture for two beds: $250.

After filling the beds, it was back to the store for a load of plants. Too late in the season for seeds, I bought them all in pots. Tomatoes, squash, okra and so on. I also bought potted flowers. Dad told me to always have flowers in the garden.

Nope, it wasn’t for the bees. It was for Mom when she got mad because he spent too much time in the garden. Total cost of plants and “Forgive me, Wife” flowers: $150.
The garden was finally finished the day The Wife returned from her business trip, but there were some additional costs involved. Here’s the list: gas for The Wife’s car: $100; and the doctor’s visit was an additional $75 (don’t ask). Grand total: $825 for a tomato plant that has, so far, produced only one tomato.

And finally, there was a bill for $175 to clean and deodorize the inside of The Wife’s car. It seems mushroom compost is really hard to get out of carpet.

And no, she didn’t know about it until now. I guess you could say I’m now in deep mushrooms.

Just hope I live long enough to harvest the rest of those tomatoes.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is]