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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Staking Out the Election…

future tomato stakeThe late journalist and news anchorman David Brinkley, when asked about the press’s responsibility in regard to politics and the country’s political infrastructure in a free Democracy, said something to the effect: “Without the press, there would be no one to keep an eye on the politicians, absolutely no one at all.” Considering Brinkley’s high journalistic ideals, you might wonder if The Ripple is shirking its duties by not taking a stand on the political issues and candidates currently mixing it up in this election year’s campaign season. If that’s weighing on your mind, you don’t know The Ripple. The trivial, the esoteric, the mundane--everyday incidents that happen in the Valley—or elsewhere (like the man who accidentally swallowed a yo-yo or folks who gather the Valley weeds for their salad…real news of that nature is this journalist’s jurisdiction and The Ripple is there Johnny-on-the-spot to scoop the story. I suggest those so consumed by the current political folderol skip this post and spend their time watching the talking heads babbling away on CNN instead. So if you readers are tuned out by this post’s title, you needn’t be: The Ripple is proud to focus its political attention not on Donkeys and Elephants but tomatoes.

They’re sprouting up everywhere, and with such a variety of heirloom colors they readily catch the eye—along busy stretches of highway, every corner where a moving vehicle has to slow to make the turn, at stoplight intersections. Like random mushrooms they seem to shoot up overnight. From all appearances it looks like there’ll be a bumper crop this fall. politicized cornerIt’s a welcome sight for the tomato gardener who even after the first seed is sown is already looking ahead to next garden season.

My tease about tomatoes may have mislead you. The bountiful crop I’m talking about is not that plump, red fruit but wooden stakes. I’ve tried a variety of methods to string up my tomatoes. Tomato cages, those inverted wire cones, have proved a flimsy support for my Early Girl tomatoes that, blight excepted, may yield upwards of fifty pounds of fruit per vine. Early Girls are an indeterminate variety of tomato (and my favorite variety). That means the plant and fruit continue to grow until the late season shuts it down; the fruit doesn’t set and mature at the same time like romas or sauce tomatoes, for example. To support this variety, the method that’s proven best for this gardener is a sturdy wooden stake. I observed that Jeff Miller of Willie Green’s Organic Farms uses a wire trellis on which to secure each plant. Brandon Bischoff does the same on his little plot at Kelly Bolles.’ That’s a serious consideration if one were to plant a hundred foot or longer row of tomatoes. I, however, have a smaller plot and normally plant twenty or so tomato plants each season. A nice, sturdy stake at least three feet long is the means I use to prop up the vine. Some hemp twine wrapped around the main leaders of the vine is then knotted securely to the wooden stakes.Tomato stakes

My collection of stakes has come from two sources: real estate signs and, most plentiful of all, political signs. Three or four years ago approximately at five a.m. Saturday I would be awakened by a car slowing to a stop across the road. Then I would hear a “tap, tap, tap” of a hammer followed by silence. Next the sound of the vehicle moving on. Normally such an interruption would be an annoyance, but I tolerated it gladly for it meant one more free tomato stake for my Early Girls. Some real estate developer was advertising homes in his housing development—the name of the project escapes me—no doubt something quaint and nature-related like “Quail Run,” the construction of which most certainly scattered any resident wildlife to the four winds. For support, the signs were strategically placed next to a DOT highway sign post. Later that day I would cross the road, wiggle loose the sign, dispose of the signage and store the stake with its predecessors. If I didn’t do this on the weekend, come Monday morning the little white DOT dump truck (bed always empty) with its flashing yellow lights would remove both stake and sign: no distractions on a state highway. The economic downturn and decline in the housing market brought an abrupt end to that source of tomato stakes.

This election year’s selection of stakes shows potential. However, my stake harvest is tempered somewhat by politicians on the cheap (shallow war chests, I guess). Some are using those inexpensive thin wires to support their signs. Just a word to the wise, you politician skinflints: the slightest breeze from a passing vehicle blows your name recognition right down in the weeds; an eighteen wheeler will flatten your election aspirations to ground level. A word of advice from a nonpartisan (tomato grower): use sturdy wood to display your political aspirations. Just a few “tap, taps,” and your name will remain upright in everyone’s face  (if not memory) until the November election. As I said before, the gardener looks ahead to next year. The day after the election after the political dust has settled, I’m pulling up stakes wherever I find them.Staked out

The political machine grinds on inexorably; it has a life of its own just as we have ours. The fact of the matter is that about the only political support my tomatoes and I can really count on comes from these sturdy stakes. Besides, as far as the political affiliation the stakes display, tomatoes could care less: they, like all vegetables and fruits remain staunchly nonpartisan.

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