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Green tomato madness drives gardener over edge ... thousands flee!

Despite the pampering and pleading, the begging and badgering, it all has boiled down to one ripe cherry tomato barely the size of a marble.

We may be trotting through the dog days of August, but you couldn't tell it by the tomato plants in our Sterling Creek garden south of Jacksonville. Tomatoes hang heavy from the vines, yet they remain as green as giant grapes.

For reasons I cannot fathom, they refuse to act like responsible adult tomatoes. They simply will not take the next step of becoming plump ripe fruit for salads, tacos and BLTs.

"You'd think they would turn red from the sheer embarrassment," I told my wife. "We had lots of red tomatoes by the end of July last year."

"Perhaps they are green with envy," countered Maureen, as she popped the lone ripe tomato into her mouth.

"It wasn't that good — a little tart," she added before I could sputter a protest reminding her that our wedding vows included halfsies.

Despite their reluctance to produce ripe fruit, our seven tomato plants are thriving. Indeed, if the stems get any bigger, I'll buck them up for firewood this fall.

Still, nothing but green tomatoes dangling on the vine by the second week of August seems un-American, an affront to all God-fearing folk who devoutly raise tomatoes each summer.

"I read somewhere that it's good to talk to your plants, apparently to let them know you feel their pain," I said.

"You really shouldn't go down that garden path of trying to think like a tomato," Maureen cautioned. "After all, I would hate to lose my husband to the dreaded green tomato madness."

Humor aside, she may have a point. The sight of a kneeling adult with his hairy arms around a tomato plant, talking man-to-Manitoba, could be unsettling to passers-by unfamiliar with the fine art of vegetative verbiage.

Lord knows I have gone out of my way to provide care and comfort for the tomato plants. I planted their tomato toes deep in chicken poop fertilizer. I've faithfully watered and weeded all season. I even spread a blanket of straw around them to serve as mulch.

And when a wild turkey insisted on digging up the straw in search of bugs, I quickly worked out an arrangement with him. He has been invited back for dinner Nov. 26.

Yet something made the tomato gods angry.

Our tomato troubles began with a chilly June that brought two freezing mornings in mid-month, followed by broiling July temperatures that would scorch toast, and, just last Saturday, a hailstorm that pelted the garden with ice bombs the size of ping-pong balls.

Fortunately, the broccoli, onions, peppers, potatoes, pumpkin, rhubarb, squash, strawberries, watermelons and other crops survived Mother Nature's wrath. Save for losing a few green fruit, the tomato plants look fine.

Unfortunately, the zucchini sailed through without any noticeable reduction in its busy production schedule. Henry Ford must have had the zucchini in mind when he first envisioned a car factory spewing out one vehicle after another.

Sadly, friends suddenly glance at their watches and dash off to a just-remembered appointment whenever I mention our bountiful zucchini crop. I'm thinking about carving zucchini canoes out of the smaller ones and selling them to tourists heading up to Applegate Lake.

Meanwhile, a canoeing buddy here at the MT is producing ripe tomatoes by the wheelbarrow full. To feed my tomato habit, he has offered to bring in a few of the smaller ones. But he says he would need a little help to roll them into the back of my pickup truck.

Yes, tomato people can be very cruel this time of year.

Making green tomato pie is not an option. My late mom was a good cook but even she was unable to create an edible pie from green tomatoes. The hideous concoction invariably smelled like boiled sweat socks.

It seems a heart-to-heart with the tomatoes is the only solution.

"I'm going to tell them, 'No pressure, guys, but we have a very sharp scythe,' " I told Maureen. "We'll see what they say about that."

My wife says she has had trouble sleeping lately, something about the need to keep one eye open. Probably a touch of green tomato madness. Poor woman.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.