Sunday, January 03, 2010

The $64 Tomato - a good winter read

Someone (I can't remember who) recommended this book. I put it on my wish list at, and when it came up, I said sure, send it my way!

This memoir chronicles William Alexander's journey to create the perfect country kitchen garden, lessons in planting and cultivating, humor, and life lessons as well. Of course there are life lessons; what would a memoir be without them?

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.

We 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. He attempts to minimize the feeling of labor 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.

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Anonymous Jen on the Edge said...

I really enjoyed this book a lot (and have read it twice so far), but was occasionally frustrated by the author's lack of knowledge about certain gardening basics.

For example, he brushes off mulching his beds, which any gardener knows is not only an excellent way of keeping out the weeds, but also helps keep plant roots moist.

1/03/2010 8:43 AM  
Blogger Daisy said...

He did show a bit of denial at times. His "gentleman farmer" overruled the serious gardener, and that hurt his end results.

1/03/2010 1:50 PM  
Blogger samccoy said...

I would like to read that book, I'll see if I can get it in the library. I suppose it's out of print.

BTW, my mother and I have shuffle hoes...they are exceptionally wonderful tools. Go to auctions, that seemed to be the best place to find good ones that are most ergonomic.

Thanks so much. I love this stuff.

1/03/2010 2:08 PM  
Blogger Grumpy Momma said...

One of my goals in life is to start a garden (financial and theraputic reasons). Thanks for the comments on my blog.
If you blog about teaching social skills and/or Asperger's anywhere, I'd love to read more of any insights or advice you may have.

Happy gardening!

1/03/2010 5:52 PM  
Blogger R Dean said...

Daisy, sounds like a cool read...we'll have to check it out!

Our compost pile is still cooking..even under the foot or so of snow laying on top of it...

Happy New Year!

R Dean

1/03/2010 8:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He had serious pest problems, didn't he? But such a great read.

1/04/2010 1:38 PM  

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