As the joke has it, nine months from the start of the pandemic - right around January 2021 - we’ll experience a baby boom. After all, some activities are better suited to sheltered lifestyles than others.
But while the gestation period has months remaining, pandemic garden propagation is now upon us.
Enforced free time is resulting in a summer season with some of the saddest little fruits and vegetables ever seen on kitchen tables. Many of us have been gardening furiously since April - some folks for the first time in their lives.
Manhattan balconies and suburban backyards are chockablock with edibles, planted and potted where none has ever appeared before. Crops range from the challenging, such as broccoli and eggplant, to the relatively easy to handle garden staples, mint and basil.
A Google search of “recipes with basil” produced 1.2 million results. It also directed me to the more pressing issue: “What to do with too much basil.”
I have no data to support this, but I believe that after basil the most prevalent pandemic crop is tomatoes. My wife Amy has watched me nurse three tomato plants since early spring and determined that I’m producing the exotic “nine-dollar variety” - a tomato whose fully amortized unit cost is nearly ten bucks.
Amazon brings daily deliveries of potting soil, compost and mulch - most of it in bags triple the size I require, at double the price I would pay at Home Depot. I’ve purchased vermiculite, perlite, worm castings and neem oil, along with various potions designed to encourage blossoms to produce fruit.
I’ve watched hours of YouTube videos about growing tomatoes. Most of these, designed to be inspiring, are downright depressing.
The hosts casually display row after row of pristine specimens that “you, too, can grow.” Except I can’t. Maybe it’s because I’m using a 4-10-5 fertilizer instead of 6-8-3. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have a fully-automated drip irrigation system. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t live in San Diego or Yuma, where the sun always shines.
I’ve heard that “watching grass grow” is the most tedious horticultural activity. Actually, watching tomatoes grow - or, in my case, not grow - is worse. I’m up before dawn to investigate progress. With little else to do, I check mid-morning, mid-day, mid-afternoon and mid-evening.
I’ve learned: A watched tomato plant never fails to boil a gardener’s patience.
If my pandemic garden does a produce a ripe tomato, I intend to photograph it and, perhaps, give it a name.
However, after all I’ve been through this summer, I don’t know if I’ll have the heart to eat it.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker.