At the beginning of summer, just as I was beginning this whole urban farming extravaganza, my daughter and I planted two heirloom tomato plants. One was "Mr. Stripey" and the other has since been named "Mrs. Peach."
From the moment these two plants touched their identical soil, Mrs. Peach has flourished, and Mr. Stripey has languished. Too much water? Tried fixing that to no result. Pests? Nope. Too little water? Uh uh. Too much light? Nein.
None of the usual fixes seemed to address whatever was bugging Mr. Stripey. And while, inches away, Mrs. Peach grew, and flowered and set out dozens of fruit, Mr. Stripey made a single fruit, and then sat there, bad tempered, for the rest of the summer. Fed up with nursing him, I let Mr. Stripey stew in his own juices. If he wanted to be a bad plant, nothing I was going to do was going to change that.
Then, two days ago, out of the blue, my daughter rushed in to the living room, bouncing with uncontainable joy. "The 'mato on Mr. Stripey changed color! Can we harvest it, Mama?"
I had no idea. What constitutes ripe on a "Mr. Stripey" tomato? I consulted the oracle named google. My five minutes of research revealed that there are two cultivars that carry that name, one of which was ripe when orange, the other when red. So...did I have the orange version? Or was my fruit orange only as a way station on the road to red ripeness?
I couldn't figure out a way to tell, but with KK buzzing around like an Africanized honeybee I decided to take a chance. With great ceremony, we harvested our first Mato of the season. Would it be a brilliant success? Or a dismal, unripe failure?
I sliced it, cutting away the little black area where some bird or bug had made a little hole. I put one pretty pink and orange slice on each plate, sprinkled it with salt, and, in unison, we each took a bite. We broke into identical grins. It was firm, but juicy, full of tomato flavor but with a faint citrus tang. Deeelishus.
I felt almost guilty for how badly I had treated Mr. Stripey. Sure he had a bad attitude. Sure he refused to grow, and produced yellow, diseased looking leaves. But boy, could he make a tomato! One tomato. Just one. But it was a doozy.
I went outside to apologize to him. He squatted there, ugly as ever. But as I looked at him with new affection, what should I discover but two more baby stripeys, plum size, hiding among the unattractive greenery. How I'd misjudged him!
Next door, Mrs. Peach preened, covered in flowers and small, unripe fruit. I looked at her, and shrugged my shoulders. As far as I'm concerned, the score is now Mr. Stripey one, Mrs. Peach, zero.