Green Thumb Tomato Killer

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

After questioning where their food comes from, a young couple makes a bet about who can grow the best tomatoes. But what keeps happening to the tomato plants?

May 19, 2021 – Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

The view from their second story apartment was especially good during late spring.  Marie and Jason liked to have lunch on their balcony and admire the blooms on the surrounding trees as they breathed in the fresh air.

Lunch had become something like a ritual for them.  It was the one time each day when they unplugged and consciously talked.  Dinner was no good because Marie worked the night shift taking customer calls about insurance.  Breakfast was no good, either, because Jason was rushing out the door for his job at a sporting goods store.  But lunch was calm.  The sporting goods store was close enough that Jason could take his lunch break and be back home in five minutes.

They took turns preparing their meals.  That was part of the ritual.  For Jason, that meant cooking the night before and then reheating, if lunch was going to be more than simple sandwiches.  He enjoyed the challenge.  He and Marie had become better cooks since taking lunch seriously.  A quiet cooking rivalry had even started.

As they sat on the balcony enjoying the pasta salad made by Jason, Marie held forkfuls of chicken and vegetables up to the light.

“What are you doing?” asked Jason.

“Just thinking about where food comes from.  Like where did this piece of chicken start out?”

“I wouldn’t think too hard about that if I were you.”

“Okay, well how about the vegetables?  Where did they grow?”

Jason shrugged his shoulders.

Marie stared at a pea she separated on her plate.  “If I took this pea and planted it in the ground down there, would it grow into a pea plant and make other peas?”

“That one’s been frozen and cooked.  I don’t think there’s much hope for it making pea plants.”

Marie speared the pea and a kernel of corn with her fork and held them up.  “What if they weren’t cooked and we got them in the produce section instead of frozen or in a can?  Can we just put them in the ground and they’ll start growing?”

Jason chuckled.  “I don’t think it’s that simple.  A lot of this stuff is genetically modified.  It only grows from special seeds.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Look it up.”
“We should know more about this stuff.  We should know where food comes from.”

“It can’t be that hard.  You put something in the ground and it grows.”

“How do you know it’s not hard?  You’re from the city.  You’ve never grown anything.”

“I grew a potato in science class.  I put half of it in a cup of water, and it sprouted right into the air.”

“That doesn’t count.”
“Why not?  It was growing wasn’t it?  I also put some beans in cups and watched them sprout.  So there.”

“Wow.  I guess I was wrong.  You do sound like a total farmer.”

“Ha ha.  Well, what have you ever grown?”

“I helped my mom plant flowers in her yard all the time.  Tulips.  Geraniums.  Lilies.”

“You can’t eat flowers.”

“Yes you can.  And raising flowers gives me a lot more agriculture experience than you raising beans in a cup.”

Jason laughed and shook his head.  “Nah, I think I’d be a much better farmer than you.  I don’t mind getting dirty.  I’m used to working with my hands.”

“I’m just as good with my hands.  We should try growing something and see who’s better at it.”

“Where are we going to grow something?  You know you hate dirt in the apartment.  If we get a bunch of bean cups, I guarantee they’re going to spill.”

“Not inside.  Out there.”  Marie gestured toward the outside of their apartment.  “We have that community garden right next to the dumpsters.  All we have to do is claim a spot.”

“Is that what that place with all the little flags and sticks is for?”

“Yes.  Don’t you read the emails from the apartment complex?”

“Not really.”

“Anyway, we could each choose something to grow and pick our own spot.”

“No, no.  We have to grow the same thing.  Otherwise we’ll be comparing carrots to potatoes.  We should grow something easy.  Like tomatoes.  There’s a guy at work who brings in tons of tomatoes when he has a garden.”

“Alright.  Tomatoes sound good to me.”

Marie and Jason wrapped up lunch and took their dishes into the kitchen.  Jason hurried back to the sporting goods store but not before giving Marie a long kiss, which was another part of their lunchtime ritual.

The next weekend, the couple drove to a local greenhouse in search of advice on how to get started with their tomato project.  Behind the greenhouse, fields of vegetables were already planted and destined for future farmers’ markets and produce stands.

“See, this place knows what they’re doing,” said Marie.  “They’ve already got tomatoes out there in the ground.”

“How do you know they’re tomatoes?” asked Jason.

“With all that space, they must have some tomatoes.”

After walking into the warm, humid greenhouse, Marie hurried toward the first employee she saw.

“Excuse me.  We’re interested in growing tomato plants.  Can you show us what seeds to buy and what to do with them?” said Marie.

The woman from the greenhouse put down the flower pots she was holding and gave Marie a patient smile.  “If I were you, I wouldn’t start with seeds.  We can sell you little plants that are already growing.  That way, all you have to do is put them in the ground.  It’s a great head start.  How many would you be looking for?”

“One for me and one for him,” answered Marie, pointing at Jason.

“Only two?”

“They’re for a contest.  We’re trying to figure out who’s the better farmer.”

“Okay.  Sounds like an interesting contest.”

“And when will we actually start seeing tomatoes?” asked Jason.

“Now’s a good time to get them in the ground,” said the greenhouse woman.  By late July, early August, you’ll see the tomatoes.”

“And how do you think we should judge them?  I mean, how are we going to know which of us grew the better plant?”

“With tomatoes, it’s all about how many you get.  I suppose you could count them or maybe weigh them.”

“Yeah, I like that idea,” said Jason.  “On August 1st, we’ll weigh all of our tomatoes.”

Marie and Jason spent the next fifteen minutes searching among the hundreds of tomatoes sproutlings for sale in the greenhouse.  Both wanted the healthiest, biggest looking plant which would produce the most tomatoes.  They paid for their selections and drove straight home to get them in the ground.

The community garden available to apartment complex residents was already filled with wooden stakes used to claim territory.  Marie and Jason tiptoed around the stakes and upturned soil, looking for prime spots for their tomatoes.  Jason choose an isolated place where he thought his plant would get a lot of south facing sun.  Marie stayed closer to the ground which had already been claimed.  She figured the gardeners who had come before her must know something about fertile soil.

Marie and Jason both dug holes with their bare hands down to the depth recommended by the greenhouse woman.  They gingerly placed their baby plants inside and then patted dirt around them.  They wrote their names on wooden stakes to proudly mark the tomato plants as their own.

“You know, I think we should make this even more interesting,” said Jason, as they walked back to their apartment.  “How about we say the person with the least tomatoes makes all the lunches for two straight weeks?”

“Alright.  You’re on,” said Marie with a smile.  Then she stopped to look back toward the community garden.  “Doesn’t it feel good to be growing our own food?  We really are farmers now!”

“Well, in a way.  A really small way,” replied Jason.

The new tomato plants soon added a whole new routine to Marie’s mornings.  After Jason left for work, she would wander over to the garden with a small cup of water to make sure her plant was not thirsty.  She wanted the soil nice and moist.  Marie had heard that singing to plants helped them grow, so she sang the latest pop songs to hers.  She also counted its leaves and took pictures so she could keep track of growth progress.

The first couple of weeks went really well.  The tomato leaves were a bright green and Marie spotted what looked like the beginnings of actual tomatoes.  And then, practically overnight, some of the leaves turned from green to yellow.  Over the next two days, they went from yellow to brown and Marie panicked.  What had she done wrong?  Was the plant getting too much water?  Too much singing?

Marie carefully inspected Jason’s plant to see if it was suffering from the same discoloration.  No.  His leaves were still a bright green.  If her plant withered and dried, she would never hear the end of it.  She must have picked out a dud in the greenhouse.

Marie decided she could not quit so early in the contest.  It might be cheating a little, but she deserved a second chance at picking out a good plant.  The next morning, she drove back to the greenhouse alone.  She found the same woman who had helped her earlier.

“Do you still have the little tomato plants for sale?  Hopefully bigger now that they’ve been growing for another three weeks?”

“Those were all sold out,” replied the greenhouse woman.

“You don’t have any growing outside somewhere?”

“Sure, we’ve got lots of them in the vegetable field, but those are meant for producing tomatoes.”

“Couldn’t you just sell me one?  I’d pay extra.  Whatever it costs.  Please.  My first plant isn’t doing so well and I really need a replacement.”

“Well, we usually don’t do stuff like that, but I guess it can’t hurt if it’s only one plant.”

Marie and the woman grabbed a shovel and tromped out to the rows of tomato plants.  When Marie was convinced she had found a plant which looked identical to the original one, the greenhouse lady dug out the plant, including its roots and a large clump of soil.  Everything was placed into a plastic bag for the car ride home.

Marie immediately returned to the community garden and used her hands again to remove the sad, original plant and dig a deeper hole for its replacement.  She packed dirt around it and pressed it down so there were no signs of fresh digging.  Before Marie threw the first plant in the dumpster to hide the evidence, she paused and said a few words, as if she was at a funeral.

“You were a good little plant.  You loved the sunshine and water.  I’m sorry things didn’t work out here.”

Jason had not said much about the tomato contest since it started, but the next day, he asked Marie how her plant was doing.

“Really well,” she answered.  “I think I can already see some mini tomatoes.”

“Yeah, same with mine.  But I thought I saw some of your leaves looking a little yellow.”

“Huh.  Must have been a temporary kind of thing.”

Marie continued to keep a close eye on her plant.  She also went to a home and garden store and purchased a bag of fertilizer.  She sprinkled pellets around the stem of the plant and took more pictures of the leaves.  They looked healthy through most of June and Marie watched the little tomatoes get bigger and bigger.

And then, just as suddenly as before, yellow spots appeared.  They spread until entire leaves withered.  Marie spoke to the plant, asking what was wrong and if she had given it too much fertilizer or if the dirt in that spot of ground was bad.  The next morning, the plant looked so pitiful that she knew she had to do something drastic.  Again.

When Marie found the same woman in the greenhouse, she eventually agreed to dig up another tomato plant from the vegetable field.  Marie did more hand digging and dirt moving until the replacement plant looked like it had been in the community garden all along.  Then she hid the evidence in the dumpster, once again telling the plant how sorry she was that it had not thrived in the garden.

By the middle of July, Marie’s plant number three was filled with ripening tomatoes, turning from green to red.  She counted her tomatoes compared to Jason’s and was confident she would win.  She was taking pictures of tomatoes when she noticed the first yellow spots.  They seemed to grow and spread right before her eyes.  Again!  She waited another day to be sure, but was then back at the vegetable farm picking out another plant of just the right size.  She made sure it had plenty of fat tomatoes.

With tomato plant number four transplanted into the community garden, Jason made a casual comment about her plant versus his.

“Seems like you’ve got more tomatoes on yours than I remember,” he said.

Marie could not tell if he sounded suspicious.  “You’re probably remembering wrong.  And why are you so obsessed with my tomatoes?  You should worry about your own.”

Tomato plant number four stayed green all the rest of July.  When August 1st arrived, Marie and Jason picked every tomato from each of their plants and put them in separate bowls.  Jason borrowed a scale from work.  Marie’s tomatoes weighed in at 6.4 pounds.  Jason’s were only 5.1 pounds.

“Okay, you’re clearly the winner,” said Jason graciously.  “You have the greenest thumb.  I’m cooking for the next two weeks.”

“Thanks,” replied Marie a little sheepishly.  “But you really don’t have to do all the cooking.”

“No, a deal’s a deal.  You deserve it.  Your plant turned out to be amazing.”

“Well, I have a little bit of a confession.  My plant actually kept turning yellow and dying.  So I kept replacing it with new ones.”

Jason’s eyes grew wide.  “Aha!  I knew something was going on.  I knew it wasn’t just miraculously recovering.  Not after three times.”

“How do you know so much about my yellow leaves?”

“I have a little confession too.  I sprayed your plant with a little Roundup.  It’s mostly for killing weeds, but it will take out tomatoes too.”

Marie punched Jason in the shoulder.  “You killed three of my plants!  I thought I was doing something wrong.  That woman at the greenhouse must think I’m crazy.”

Jason laughed and said, “I was going to tell you, but then your plants kept coming back to life.  I thought maybe you were a natural born farmer.”

“Then I still win.  Your cheating was a lot worse than mine.  And you’re definitely cooking for the next two weeks.”

“I know, I know,” replied Jason through his laughter.  “I hope you’ve got a big appetite for tomatoes.”

 

For more stories, including audio versions, please visit 500ironicstories.com


Submitted: June 04, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Aaron Hawkins. All rights reserved.

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