End of an Era

Cherry tomatoes from the Floyd Community Market

We expect the first frost tomorrow, the first freeze possibly on Sunday night. [Note: when we first moved to SW VA in 1975, the average first frost date was Sept 10.] So that will be the end of the cherry tomatoes, which is the only halfway successful “product” we’ve produced in our little garden space this year.

I planted them (well, they volunteered from last year and I selected a few to survive) along the fence that faces the road. We grazed heavily when mowing, walking the dog, anytime the notion struck us to reach out and grab something colorful, sweet-tart and natural, hanging in long clusters like grapes.

Lately, the chickens have been spending a lot of time under the tommy-toes, as the fruits ripen, split and fall.

As it turns out, the most splendid of all the volunteer cherry tomato plants is over in the chicken pen. Since we lost our chickens to wandering dogs last winter, the 8 x 18 impoundment next to the barn grew up in a feral mixture of all the sprouted seeds from the regular bird seed mix plus the scraps from the table and garden last year.

One volunteer tomato sprouted from the nutrient-rich soil of the pen was up good size when we acquired the current three hens about two months ago. One surviving tomato vine is flourishing, all its leaves pecked away as high as a hen can jump, but the vine trunk is as thick as my thumb. I’m saving seed from it, since it seems like a hardy source for next year’s “volunteers.”

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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