Is this the year for a bumper crop?

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Now I know I wrote about this last year in February, and even before that in 2017, but this time I think I’ve finally gotten it right. That is, at least I’ve gotten the start right, but I really don’t know how this story will end.

You see, the ending is many months away and could be really sweet and juicy or downright rotten to the core. We’ve done everything to have the best possible outcome, but now Mother Nature takes over, and she can be unpredictable at times.

It’s tomato growing season once again, and we’ve taken care of all the preparations for a bumper crop!

Twice before I’ve written about Dad’s famous ability to grow prize-winning tomatoes. He had the biggest and sweetest tomatoes in town. There were three keys to his success.

First, he used the black dirt from our backyard swamp. Second, he dumped lime in the garden. “In February you lime the soil to make it sweet,” he would say while throwing out handfuls of the white pelletized stuff. I always thought that was wrong because after he did, I tasted the soil. It tasted like plain old dirt to me. But you can’t argue with his success, so this year I’ve decided to prep our little garden in the exact same way Dad did all those years ago. Well, almost.

The Wife and I don’t have a swamp in our backyard serving up rich, black dirt every time it floods, but down at the end of our street is a creek. After all the rain last week, I dug up buckets full of gray creek muck, hauled it back to our garden and dumped it. It’s not swamp dirt, but it will have to do.

After sprinkling handfuls of pelletized lime all over the area, there was nothing else to do except wait. When to plant was the third secret to the success of Dad’s tomatoes.

“I’ll tell you a secret,” he said. “Never, ever plant tomatoes until Easter Sunday.” Through the years, I’ve planted tomatoes too soon or too late, tried growing them from seed inside and from outside in a makeshift little green house, and watered them too little or not enough.

Every year my tomatoes are things from a nightmare. They grow either really big or super small, or stay green never turning red. Other years they’re rosy red on top, but on the bottom they’re black and rotten. Simply put, when it come to growing tomatoes, my green thumb is truly black.

This Easter, I will be 63, and it will be the first year I’ve followed all three of Dad’s tomato growing techniques. Some may ask, “Why did it take you so long to do all three?” The answer is simple.

This is the first year I put out lime in the month of February, but I can’t take credit for remembering that important detail. During a conversation with Big Brother James last weekend, I asked how he grew such large tomatoes every year. I explained how I grow big tomatoes with bottom end rot.

That’s when he asked, “Don’t you remember that one time you ate dirt? Dad always put out lime the garden in February.” Thanks, James. I remember now.

The Wife loves a big, juicy, sweet tomato, and after over twenty-one years of marriage, it’s the one thing I haven’t been able to give to her. Last night I promised the long wait for the perfect homegrown tomatoes would soon end – this would be the year.

After giving me a hug and kiss, she smiled and replied, “I have all the faith in your gardening abilities, but just in case they don’t turn red again, remember I do love a fried green tomato sandwich.”

Special Reader’s note: Come February of next year I may be writing about tomatoes once again, but hopefully the story will be about how successful our bumper crop was in 2021 because I finally followed all three of Dad’s masterful tomato techniques.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]