It was me. I stole all the tomatoes. Well, I didn’t steal them but while you were all panic buying loo roll and chocolate digestives I, in a covid-induced stupor, ordered tomato seeds. Do you garden? Were you one of the new recruits keen to make use of time on your hands, becoming self-sufficient on a glut of courgettes? If you were, then I apologise for your lack of tomatoes.
I got sick a week before lockdown. With everything that everyone else suffered year, in comparison mine was nothing. I felt ill, hallucinating about pressing my fingertips to see if I were still alive, bright magenta electricity pulsed in my long bones and the weight of the duvet crushed me flat. It was here that my first wave of tomato seed madness occurred. I don’t even remember buying them but an iPad, Lemsip and a crazy high temperature saw an order for Moneymaker, Gardener’s Delight, and Tumbling Tom whizzed off into the ether while I returned to sleep, waking only to see a worried husband hovering at the bedroom door, unable to come in and hug me.
Oh, that’s ok, I hear you say. That’s not so bad. The tomatoes, not the husband. Well yes. But there’s more. You see, after a week of feeling proper poorly I felt better. Not better enough to get up and I was still in self-isolation but as a woman who has been mostly housebound and sick for nearly fifteen years, I knew how to stay in bed and shop. I’d been in training all those years, missing out on the excitement of the big world, and I was now at Olympic athlete readiness for lockdown. I ordered some more seeds.
This, in any given year, can be a bit of a mismatch between
A. How big my garden is versus how big it is in my head.
B. How well I think I am versus how sick I actually am.
C. How many thousands I think I might end up feeding versus how many courgettes I can make my husband eat.
In my head I am perfectly capable of digging a garden and eating thirty tons of radishes. Never mind that I am planning all of this unable to get out of bed.
Internet shopping works like this – I add everything I like the look of into the basket, then when I see the bill at the checkout, take out 90% and stick to my £10 budget. Tomatoes have such beautiful names; Indigo Rose, Principe Borghese, Cherry Babyboomer, Bloody Butcher, Pear Drop. Who wouldn’t want a Dwarf Veranda in their basket or a Banana Legs or the beefsteak Mr Stripy? I mean, come on, haven’t you ever fallen for an Artisan Pink Tiger? I fell hard, adding them all to the basket. Gloriously wasting forty-five minutes with these virtual love apples, and then with the taking of a breath I was suddenly bone-weary, eyes closing on my softly tomato tinted world. Confident that I’d edited the basket, head hurting, I hit pay, flashed my fingerprint and Paypal did the rest. The scene ends with me sleeping for another week.
Another week. I’m still in bed. Downstairs the postman knocks on the door and runs away. A game of knock-down-ginger replayed with every delivery. Inside my package? Twenty-five packets of tomato seeds.
Do you garden? Did I ask you that already? If you don’t then let me explain. The average packet of tomato seed has ten maybe twenty seeds. Even at a conservative fifteen seeds a packet that’s potentially almost four hundred tomato plants in my not-as-spacious-a- garden-as-I-would-like-to-think. To feed just me and my husband. And then the news hit. National shortages. Shops unable to meet the demand. The sudden surge in new gardeners. And who has all the seeds?
In my defence and not entirely without guilt. I did share. I posted seed parcels to friends and family who had been too busy watching Boris and the unfolding global pandemic to plan for summer pasta sauce. Like a middle-aged drug dealer, I sat on the sofa making little wraps of Crimson Crush, Honey delight and Heinze 1350. In my mind, it was somehow worse to have the remaining seeds and not sow them. Sowing five of each variety, I figured with neglect I would probably kill off half of them and I know they say you should murder your little darlings but pulling out the weakest ones and discarding to the compost bin is just too brutal for this gardener. I sowed and tended and watered. One hundred and twelve plants made it, carefully sheltering on my windowsills, my dining table, the floor under the table, the bathroom floor, the front porch. Anywhere with a sliver of sunshine and some warmth, they just grew. I have pictures. Not Instagram pictures, more #crazy-lady-stepping-over-a-tomato-farm-on-the-way-to-the-loo.
What could I do? Even I knew that was too much. So, I shared. The neighbourly thing, isn’t that what we do in times of trouble? Come together as a community? Support each other, stand on our doorsteps and clap? My version involved knocking on the door and running away, like the postman, leaving a couple of tomato plants sitting there while I tried to mime that I was donating them for the war effort, to keep them on the windowsill until the frost had passed, oh and could I have the pots back when they’d finished? Most neighbours were grateful, smiling and waving. A few ran away when they saw me and to be fair still do.
My husband and me? We ate tomatoes, and chutney, and pasta sauce, and soup and salsa and salad and then we ate it all again. Thirty-five plants in the end. A year on and with the freezer still full, we’ve new tomato plants dotted all over the house again, patiently waiting for the warmth of May before we plant them out. Life going on one tomato plant at a time.