The Scoop Series: Salsa-gardening in the desert with Denveater’s favorite off-the-grid crackerjack Rebecca Ballenger
Nowadays, if I don’t check in with old pal & fellow blogger Rebecca every so often to find out what chickens she’s kicking it out in the backyard with or what sort of prickly-pear pies she’s baking in her solar oven or just generally what’s doin’ at the endless summertime block party that is her brain, all box guitars & lemonade, I begin to wither on the vine that is my couch.
So I sprouted a few new tendrils (ew) when she mentioned she was growing tomatoes. Now, if she lived in San Marzano or something, all surrounded by
that’d be one thing. But she lives in hardcore Arizona. So I had to ask, & she kindly obliged.
The Sonoran Desert is a hot mess. She’s a vampire sucking dry the landscape, the flora & the criminals creeping about in the sand. (Denved.: Really, criminals in lieu of ground cover? Sweet.) Desert survivors are stingy in their use of scarce resources. Among the most notable characters is the prickly phallus known as the saguaro (that’s pronounced suh-WAH-ro). Saguaros are native only to the Sonoran Desert. They show their supremacy & stake their claim by flipping the bird to any and all who pass by.
Well, that’s not fair. It can take 50 years for saguaros to reach 3 feet tall. Considering how often my kids beg to be measured, it must be like waiting for Christmas to get that big, except it’s waiting 50 Christmases. Eventually they do grow up & they sprout flowers—the state flower of Arizona, in fact. These flowers turn to fruit, which the Hohokam dried, crushed into powder, & added to water. Makes the 55-year-old Kool-Aid Man look spry.
(Actually to me he looks like he has a few ice cubes loose—I never really thought about the fact that he’s a big full pitcher holding a small full pitcher. You’re already it, dude! Just drop it & run! Run for that brick wall!)
Desert is a misnomer, as we receive just a twee above true desert precipitation levels, but I bet more than a few parched indigents would love to see Kool-Aid Man plowing down the delicate ecosystem with an icy pitcher of red-flavored CAP water. I don’t know from Kool-Aid though. Apart from my youth, when other kids flaunted their Kool-Aid in my face & bade me drink my spit, I still contend its best use is for coloring hair. Even then, my hair has always been too dark to take wicked awesome color like Berry Blue.
Anyway, now that the Palo Verdes—green stick trees, of which the blue variety represent the state of Arizona—are in bloom
& everyone has allergy headaches, it’s time to put the salsa gardens in the ground. As a child, I loved to walk among the rows of tomatoes that grew over my head in my backyard. I loved the smell, but even more I loved the taste. I could take salt & pepper shakers out with me, but more often than not, I’d pull the tomatoes off the vine & eat them like apples. One summer I ate so many that I developed canker sores. Then the canker sores got canker sores & I still couldn’t stop myself.
I haven’t had a single good tomato since moving to Arizona. Natives tell me that I’m not getting the right variety, not going to the best farmer’s markets, not growing my own. I call bullshit. I’ve chased down every lead & am still unable to get a good tomato.
Now, that doesn’t stop me from trying. I eat tomatoes every chance I get. I eat mealy tomatoes, waxy, hard-skinned tomatoes, even the most disgusting tomatoes on earth—the ones that come with ranch dressing & squirt like nursing babies when you bite into them.
Recently some very famous—two degrees of separation from Rachael Ray—tomato seedlings came my way, accompanied by cilantro and pepper seedlings. They all looked pathetic, but my friend Hawt Mz. Molly, who has inspired many a discussion about trade-off licking, gave them to me, so I figured I’d put them into the ground. (Folks, no idea what “trade-off licking” means. Google went straight for hybrid cabs & black lesbians. Case in point for why I dig Rebecca.)
In the past, I’ve tilled the garden, enriched the soil, & prepared sweet beds for my beloved fruits. This time out, I just couldn’t be bothered. In fact, I didn’t even manage to put on proper shoes. (Says you.)
The peppers, cilantro, & basil (from Caddo Artist—which are not yet seedlings, just seeds), went into pots, while the tomatoes went into the ground.
See how my garden grows? So much green!
Honestly? I expect only the paddle cactus there to thrive. Or maybe—given the brutal environment and hostile caregiving—killer tomatoes.
(Update forthcoming like crazy.)