Read on to see.

A former Master Gardener, I’ve been planting things for over 30 years. However, most of those things were flowers, herbs, and tropical plants.

My elderly mother handled the vegetables with great success, and I was happy to let her do so. Granted, I occasionally would contribute seedlings of tomatoes I thought were pretty—such as the black ‘Indigo Rose’—but that and lending a hand with the picking and carrying was about the extent of my involvement.

The first summer after Mom’s death, my youngest sister—who was staying with Dad and me at the time and had more experience than I did with vegetables—offered to plant those for us. She mostly used the pretty tomatoes whose seedlings I contributed, and I had to admit that they weren’t necessarily the best tasting. Fortunately I'd also sown one of our most flavorful varieties from previous years—'Marianna’s Peace'—and Sis added more practical paste tomatoes as well, so I was able to freeze quite a bit of sauce.

Solanum lycopersicum 'Cherokee Purple' (sliced tomato)By this spring, however, she had moved on to her own garden elsewhere. And the fact that she had broken her back in an ATV accident the previous year gave her, I had to admit, a very good excuse for not having to keep up two such plots.

Unfortunately, my writing seldom left me even enough time for the flower beds anymore, but I was determined that my 90-year-old father still would have the homegrown tomatoes that he loved so much. So I sowed seeds of some of the reportedly best-tasting heirlooms such as 'Brandywine,' 'Kellogg’s Breakfast,' and 'Cherokee Purple,' which I’d received in a trade the previous autumn, in addition to our must-have Marianna. I was worried about blight, though, since our weather had been growing wetter over the past several years.

Mom had settled on a remedy for that, the application of both lime and magnesium (Epsom salt) to the soil beneath tomato seedlings when they were set out. Unfortunately, I had never gotten around to asking her how much of those things she used.

Capsicum annuum ‘Tricolor Variegata’ (ornamental pepper)So I made a wild guess and applied 1/3 cup per plant (1/6 cup of each). I began to fear I’d used too much when the tomatoes shortly began to look burnt, but my sister assured me that probably was attributable to the unseasonably hot weather which had prevailed at the time I set them out. Sure enough, they began to green up again shortly.

I also planted a variety of other vegetables, hilling up the rows a bit on everything to compensate for the heavy clay soil. I then put down some of the black plastic, cut from old silo bags, which Mom had used to suppress weeds in the rows between the vegetables. Unfortunately, it had become tattered, not to mention that I’d made the rows a bit too wide for the plastic to cover them completely.

Let’s just say the weeds eventually took over. Not too badly around the string beans, so they actually produced quite prolifically—considering that I hadn’t planted nearly enough of them. The carrots, peppers, and okra managed fairly well too, the brassicas and vine crops not so much! But the tomatoes—bless ‘em—have kept cranking out fruits right up into mid-October. They didn’t make huge enough amounts for me to freeze many, but more than enough for us to eat them every day while they were in season. Fortunately, both of my sisters also kept us well supplied with cucumbers and summer squashes.

Abelmoschus esculentus (okra blossom)

I should have been worrying more about the other plants than about the tomatoes. When it comes to gardening, I obviously still have a lot to learn. My youngest sister thinks the vegetable plot isn’t getting enough light anymore, which could be part of the problem, since it usually is shaded by mid-afternoon. But, since I sneaked in sunflowers, cosmoses, and zinnias too—all of which did fine—I suspect the problem actually may be a highly impractical gardener who much rather would be tending flowers!