The Year of Sad Tomatoes

In the early months of the pandemic, while hunkered down in our homes – sometime after the disappearance of toilet paper and hand sanitizer – sometime during the frantic baking of banana bread – there was a sudden shift in the collective consciousness.

Yes, we have no bananas.

This was the call: we should start planting “Covid gardens.”

Like post-war victory gardens. An organic homegrown food source. Food security. Satisfaction. Lifted morale.

This awakening of the need to plant was followed by a mad rush for and then the disappearance of seeds. Shipments of starter veggie plants were delayed. Gardeners were forlorn.

After weeks of haunting the local nursery, finally the truck arrived. I stood in line patiently wearing my mask, pushed my cart obediently along the yellow arrows, and wheeled directly to the vegetable aisle. There I claimed four tomato plants: a Roma, a golden cherry, and two of my favorite “Sweet Millions” red cherry. I also grabbed a tomatillo, a green pepper, a jalapeno, and seven sturdy cages. Here, take my money.

My mouth watered at the prospect of summer Caprese salads: juicy ripe tomatoes adorned with bright basil leaves, pillowy mozzarella, drizzled with balsamic syrup. Soulful tomato sauce, simmered with Romas, onion, garlic, and fresh herbs. And oh, the salsa verde!

Roma harvest from my inland garden a few years earlier.

I cleared one corner of my overgrown backyard – a sunny spot, tucked against the fence. Here the tomatoes would soak up the infinite rays of summer. They would produce so many fruits, I’d be able to share them with my new neighbours. They would be red and perfect, tucked in their charming basket, accompanied by a handwritten note: “Sharing the bounty from my garden! Looking forward to a socially-distanced drink on the patio soon!”

First gardening season in my new coastal home.

And then ‘Juneuary’ came. Our local nickname for what seemed to be the coldest June in memory. Never mind that I had moved closer to the water – the coastal winds shaved off at least five more degrees. The air was chilly. The soil was cold. We were still wearing pants and jackets. It rained a lot.

By mid-July, it hadn’t even hit 20 degrees Celcius yet (that’s 68 Farenheit for my American readers). And by the time Comet Neowise came and went – when the veggie patch would ordinarily be bursting with the promise of a late summer harvest – there was nothing. One sad, mottled green pepper the size of a walnut.

I failed you, green pepper plant.

The jalapeno never grew at all. It just gave up from the beginning, frozen like a deer in headlights. The tomatillo showed some faint promise. At least there were flowers.

But the tomatoes – oh my goodness, they were sad. As sad as a child whose ice cream just fell on the sidewalk. As sad as a dog when you pull out your suitcase.

She heard the suitcase zipper.

Desperate times called for desperate measures. I yanked the green pepper and the jalapeno out of the ground. And then in a moment of ruthlessness, I sacrificed one of the Sweet Millions and the yellow cherry. Maybe the extra space and sunlight around the remaining two plants would allow them to finally flourish.

By mid-August, there were green tomatoes. Cold to the touch. Shivering on the branch. Huddled together in small nervous groups.

I sent my son Bill in Winnipeg a text.

“How’s your garden doing?”

“You should see the hoards we’ve been getting.” He texted a photo of a bowl on his kitchen counter, filled to the brim with lush tomatoes of all sizes.

“That looks amazing! YUM!” I was happy for him. Truly. He had hoards.

With summer fleeting, I chopped off the remaining flowers, then the tops, then the leaves at the bottom. And then my most desperate move yet – an experiment really, though I knew better. I dug up the Roma, re-planted it in a large pot with fresh soil and fertilizer, lugged it to the sunniest spot in the yard, and prayed to the Tomato Gods to please, please, help ripen the fruit.

By early September, the Sweet Millions yield was Sweet Ten. The Romas had basically fossilized on the vine. I discovered a package of hot house tomatoes at the grocery store that weren’t half bad. And a jarred marinara sauce that admittedly I really loved, made only with peeled tomatoes, garlic, onion, and seasoned with family know-how and a pinch of Montreal’s Little Italy.

What can I say. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of the pandemic, it was the epoch of concession, it was the year of sad tomatoes.

The sadness.

  1. Hi Karin,

    You might enjoy hearing from Barb. She put countless hours into her garden early in spring, doing almost daily weeding as her garden continued to grow, until she began harvesting a bounteous crop. So, maybe you have good seasons and not so good seasons. 😊

    My ‘crop’ has been the chapters I have been writing and then other chapters I have been proofreading. And lots and lots of editing, weeding out words and phrases and commas, etc. I am now trying to write my last chapter and am finding it quite a labor as I have lost a lot of enthusiasm. Our due date has been pushed back now to 31 December and even that is in doubt. I am already looking forward to the end of 2020, which has been ‘trying’ on many fronts. No doubt, you too are looking to the end of 2020. I keep reading that good stuff will finally start to happen on December 21st, the Winter Solstice, with some great, once in thousand year cosmic blast from the Central Sun whose heightened energies and vibrations will life us finally into a much more peaceful and radiant 5D, and I think that COVID-19 cannot live in the higher vibrations. Won’t it be nice not having to wear a mask and get out and talk to people? 😊

    Tomorrow night we will have our monthly GOE meeting. It is supposed to be the first Tuesday of every month, but last Tuesday I completely forgot … losing track of the days and months. And all but one person forgot as well, with only Sarah sending me a note asking if we were having a meeting.



    From: A Golden Hour
    Reply-To: A Golden Hour
    Date: Monday, September 7, 2020 at 1:37 PM
    To: Stephen Hedetniemi
    Subject: [New post] The Year of Sad Tomatoes

    Karin Hedetniemi posted: ” In the early months of the pandemic, while hunkered down in our homes – sometime after the disappearance of toilet paper and hand sanitizer – sometime during the frantic baking of banana bread – there was a sudden shift in the collective consciousness. “

    1. Hi Dad. Gardening is a wonderful metaphor for so many things in life. Planting seeds, tending, nurturing, harvesting, resting. During this time of Covid-19, perhaps we are cycling through all of these growing phases each month. The words of John Burroughs come to mind. “The lure of the distant and the difficult is deceptive. The great opportunity is where you are.” Thank you for always sharing your thoughts! Better than a thousand tomatoes. xo

  2. Oh, no! I‘m sorry about your garden! You certainly persisted, though. I had a sad tomato year as well, though others here have had bounties. I did make one delicious batch of fried green tomatoes, and discovered sorrel (because the garden center had such a small assortment of herbs in the spring). I have to bike to my garden plot, which has been complicated by high temperatures, rain, and now cold. So it goes in the gardening business! Thank goodness for our wonderful farmers markets. I enjoyed your piece—thank you. My love to you and Gary and the doggies ❤️

    Sent from my iPhone


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