Monday, March 8, 2010

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

When Bill Alexander makes up his mind to plant a large vegetable garden he finds himself at odds with nearly all of creation. Near the top of the food chain are the landscapers, always behind schedule, often strange and occasionally frightening. Then there is the wildlife, the herds of deer that pummel the electrified fence to get at Alexander's crop, and the groundhog (Super Chuck) who merely squeezes through the wires, apparently savoring the shocks. Most menacing of all are the colonies of maggots, worms, and grubs that provoke Alexander, an organic-produce enthusiast, into soaking his entire property with potentially harmful pesticides. He suffers these ordeals, along with days of grueling labor and the eye-rolling vexation of his wife and kids, all in the pursuit of the lusciousness that is homegrown fruits and vegetables. And yet through out all these trials and tribulations he manages to maintain his sense of humor. So has all of his hard work paid off? When Alexander decides to run a cost benefit analysis, adding up everything he has spent on his garden, from the electric fence to the garden rake, and then averages it over the life of his garden so far, it comes as quite an astonishment to discover that it has actually cost him a shocking $64 to grow each one of his treasured Brandywine tomatoes.

This book is an entertaining horticultural memoir. While each chapter is its own stand alone adventure full of funny gardening mishaps it also has some great historical information on topics from Johnny Appleseed to Thomas Jefferson. It made for pleasant reading, especially on a cold winter day when you can’t help but long for the early spring planting season. If you have ever tried any type of gardening you will be able to relate to the many misfortunes Alexander experienced on his journey toward the perfect produce, along with the feeling of ultimate satisfaction that one achieves upon biting into the juicy heirloom tomatoes that you have grown yourself. That having been said you don't need a green thumb to enjoy this book.

I would like to point out that this book is not for the animal rights activist. About midway, the author goes into unnerving detail about his pains to get rid of several of those irritating creatures that most of us call wildlife. Though I found many of his actions were a bit extreme, I will readily admit that there has been more than one instance when the thought of clobbering of my husbands cat with a shovel brought me some great satisfaction.

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