Home gardening gone bad: Upside-down tomato trapezes, dog-crafted salsa

My gardening goals are so modest many folks wouldn’t even use the G-word to describe them. And they’d be right.

Gardener? Me? Hardly.

I fill flower boxes with enough basil to keep my hankering for pesto at bay — unless, that is, my basil dies, which it often does. I try to grow hot peppers so I can make salsa that never tastes as good as I think it should — if those plants ever actually produce a pepper, that is.

And I grow tomatoes the new-fashioned way, hanging upside-down on my front deck.

You’ve seen the commercials, of course. Foolproof tomato growing, without all that annoying weeding. Heck, you don’t even need a garden! Which is convenient, because I don’t have one.

A few years back, while wandering the aisles of Home Depot, trying to figure out the difference between a leaf rake and a landscaping rake, I noticed a large display featuring four of my favorite words.

“AS SEEN ON TV!” read the sign on the crates of wondrous, magical tomato-growing devices that were stacked higher than my head.

Note: As a child of the 1970s, I’m a sucker for “AS SEEN ON TV!”

Consider: I grew up in the era of products that were always — and only — available if you “CALL IN THE NEXT 24 HOURS!” and only did so ‘WHILE SUPPLIES LAST!”

And because supplies of this miracle device — I’ll call it the tomato-matic, even though you probably know it by another name — hadn’t run out, I grabbed an armful, hauled them to the checkout and proudly took them home.

My now-wife clearly was impressed. I know that because she said the same thing she says every time I find a great “AS SEEN ON TV!” bargain that nobody in their right mind could possibly pass up.

“Where are you going to put those?” she asked.

Her first few suggestions proved anatomically impossible, and we settled on a compromise: They’d go on the front deck, where — I thought — all our neighbors surely would be envious as they watched tomatoes sprout out of thin air.

Or something like that.

For the rest of the summer, I dutifully tended my upside-down tomato plants, watching in amazement as the vines began to stretch, then curl, as I fed them a daily dose of about 15 gallons of water.

Eventually, real, live tomatoes began to show up, too. Karen began to admit I might have had a pretty good idea, and we looked forward to harvest day, during which I would proudly bring all of my tomatoes inside and add a few hot peppers, which were also growing, upside-down, nearby.

Then, I’d proceed to make some marginally good salsa.

It didn’t really work out that way.

During the first year of my tomato-growing experiment, we had a bumper crop of fruit. After taking all of the tomatoes and peppers inside, Karen and I left them on the counter and observed an age-old custom: We went out on the town to celebrate nature’s bounty! (Or maybe it was Friday, and we were meeting a few friends. I forget).

Either way, when we returned home, all of the tomatoes and hot peppers were gone. Sitting next the counter was a guilty springer spaniel that apparently decided his do-it-yourself bowl-free salsa recipe would turn out better than mine.

A year later, after settling for knock-off hanging tomato receptacles — I should have known better after seeing the “SOMEWHAT SIMILAR TO THE ONE YOU SAW ON TV” sign over the display — I tried again.

For weeks, I watered and watered and watered. The vines grew and grew and grew.

And then, later than expected, a single tomato turned up.


Still, the tomato was mine. I had grown it. It wasn’t a bumper crop in the “this will feed a dog for a week” kind of way, but I vowed to do my best. Maybe it’d make a good topping on a burger or a sandwich. Maybe I’d eat it raw.

Or maybe I wouldn’t get the chance.

One morning, as I headed out for the early hosing-down of the tomato plant, I stopped short, unable to believe what I was seeing.

My vine — the only one that held a tomato — was gone.

I blinked. Nothing. I walked to the edge of the deck. And there it was: My vine — and my lone tomato — lying on the ground.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out what had happened. And really, it wasn’t too surprising.

We had a squirrel problem at that house, you see. I often saw them eyeballing my prized tomato plant and often had to shoo them away. But sometime overnight, when the coast was clear, a particularly adventurous squirrel decided to get even.

Doing his best Tarzan imitation, he had swung from my vine. Maybe he even invited his buddies.

And eventually, the vine broke. It fell to the earth. And so did my lone tomato.

I’d like to tell you the experience taught me a lesson and that I don’t waste my time trying to grow upside-down tomatoes any more.

And for now, I can do just that. The reason? Last year, we moved to a new house and my wife has, more or less, convinced me our new neighbors might not think my gaudy tomato-hangers are all that attractive.

Last year, we didn’t grow tomatoes. Or, to be more clear, we didn’t even try to do so.

This year, though, I think I might be ready to get back into the gardening game. I already have some basil started, after all.

Our new dog doesn’t seem to like salsa.

And, most importantly, I haven’t seen a single vine-swinging squirrel since we moved to the new neighborhood.

John Holyoke can be reached at 990-8214 or jholyoke@bangordailynews.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke.

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.