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Monday, January 4, 2010

The $64 Tomato: a good winter read for a summer gardener

Someone (I can't remember who) recommended The $64 Tomato: how one man nearly lost his sanity, spent a fortune, and endured an existential crisis in the quest for the perfect garden. I put it on my wish list at, and when it came up, I said sure, send it my way!

The memoir chronicles William Alexander's journey to create the perfect country kitchen garden, lessons in planting and cultivating, humor, and life lessons as well.

I can't consider myself a genteel gardener in Alexander's league. For one thing, my small city yard is nowhere near the size of his plot, the one he called a baseball field. Read "small city yard" any way you wish: small city or small yard, either works to describe the piece of land that holds my home, garage, and garden.

My husband and I haven't hired people to do any of the garden work, which means my garden history pales in comparison to Alexander's. From Lars the young guy who drives the tractor too fast to Lou the plumber/excavator that leaves his backhoe stuck in the Alexanders' clay soil backyard all winter, the hired help provide many stories so funny they must be true.

Size and perspective make a difference, too. Weeding is a small job in my garden due to its smaller size and the application of square-foot gardening principles. Poor guy, Bill Alexander got roped into a design of rows, rows, and more rows, which meant weeding, weeding, and more weeding, which he attempts to minimize by calling it "cultivating."

He describes his tools with such awe that I want to buy a shuffle hoe now, not wait until spring. By spring I'll remember that I have a fairly small vegetable plot, and I won't spend a bundle on a limited-use tool. My regular hoe will do.

In The $64 Tomato, Bill waxes poetic in an attempt to rationalize the size and design of his beds to minimize the huge job of weeding. He doesn't put the same poetic response toward his failure to remain organic. Good intentions were the road to chemical intervention in his garden as the pests got tougher and tougher - and bigger: Superchuck the woodchuck! My woodchuck visitor last year didn't come back, and didn't provide me with the same level of entertainment as Superchuck did the Alexanders, thank goodness.

I mentioned life lessons. To keep this post short and sweet, I'll let you read the book to find them. Is it worth the marital trauma to spend nights canning peaches? Does the time and financial investment necessary for a kitchen garden truly pay back in quality? Can this family be considered (gasp) normal?

If you're looking for a gardening book with straightforward advice, this isn't it. If you're looking for a good read with a fun take on the entire gardening experience, this is just right.

Disclosure: I found my copy of The $64 Tomato on This is not in any way a compensated post.