Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tahoe Tomatoes? Not

Have you ever heard about Tahoe Tomatoes? I didn't think so.
A few intrepid Tahoe locals who live on sunny meadows and face the warm western sun attempt gardening. The idea is romantic and enticing. And for those of us who moved in from areas with warmer summers (especially warmer summer nights), we carry with us wonderful memories of fresh sweet corn and crisp green beans and real (I mean REAL) tomatoes. (Believe it or not, I've got a tomato story thread going in my new book TAHOE TRAP. Don't worry, it's still a very exciting, tense book.)
Unfortunately, tomatoes need warm weather.
It should be noted that Tahoe never gets brutally cold like, say, Minnesota. But Tahoe also never gets very warm, either. Especially at night. Summer nights in Tahoe usually get down into the 40s and even the 30s.
Great for sleeping.
Not so great for vegies. (Oops, I mean, fruit. But for that, you're going to have to read Tahoe Trap and meet a great 10-year-old kid named Paco, who just happens to be a tomato expert.)
When we came to Tahoe, we heard that vegetable gardening was not on the Preferred-Tahoe-Activities list. Nevertheless, I decided to do a test grow.
In the midwest, green beans are guaranteed grow-in-any-situation-or-place bestseller vegetables. You put in ten seeds, and you get ten plants that will produce all-you-can-eat beans every day for four months and still have enough left over to fill a chest freezer and give you all-you-can-eat beans the rest of the year. Or the next three years. Seriously. Okay, maybe it takes eleven plants.
So when we came to Tahoe, I bought some can't-fail green bean seeds and planted rows of beans out by the street where it is sunny and also near the house where it is sunny. I even planted seeds in our wine-barrel planter that sits on the deck where it is sunny. I waited until mid-June before planting in hopes that I would be past our last freeze in spring. I watered and tended and fussed over those beans.
I hung in there until we heard, at the end of August, that it was suppose to freeze hard. Like any smart farmer, I went out to harvest our crop before the cold weather could claim it.
Six mini-beans. Thin as string. The longest one was three inches.
(I can't believe I found a bean pic with exactly 6 beans!)
With great fanfare and show, I served dinner that night and put our entire bean crop on our plates. Six half mini-beans for my wife and six half mini-beans for me. They didn't even taste good.
I gave up my garden ambitions.
In the midwest, we never considered the length of the growing season. Once your freezer has enough produce to overwhelm the most diehard vegan, you just don't worry about when it will freeze.
But in Tahoe, it's a bit different.
In the summer of 2010, I happened to pay attention to the temperatures.
At our house, our last hard freeze of the spring came on June 26th. Our first hard freeze of the fall came on August 3rd. Yes, you read that correctly. A 37-day growing season.
I'm sad to say that vegetable gardening and Tahoe are mutually exclusive concepts. Which is why we love our farmer's market.
Tahoe Tomatoes are a nonstarter.

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