Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The $64 Tomato by William Alexander

Gardening with Gusto (Gardening Week, First Day of Spring)

The $64 Tomato by William Alexander is a humorous account of a gardener battling to start and maintain a whopping, ├╝ber-sized 2,000 square foot kitchen garden!  For a professional man and his physician wife to even strive for such a large garden in their spare time is either insane or they have to have a good sense of humor.  Well, he definitely had a good sense of humor—this book was funny.  About being insane, I’m not qualified to comment.

In this book William Alexander calls gardening a “blood sport” for a good reason. He battled everything from clay soil, to garden designers, landscapers, weeds, numerous bug infestations, squirrels, and even groundhogs, or more specifically “Superchuck.”  One of the most amusing episodes was his battle with Superchuck.  Superchuck was woodchuck, aka groundhog, who somehow bypassed the electric fence to sneak into the kitchen garden and took bites out of prized Brandywine tomatoes. And in his super arrogance, he didn’t just take a couple tomatoes and devour them. No, he took one bite out of a whole handful of tomatoes each time he magically worked his way through the 10,000-volt deterrence.  What followed was battle of wits.  You’ll have to read it to see who officially won.

I know all about thieves who steal the fruits and vegetables you so lovingly pamper.  It doesn’t feel good to be duped like that. For three years I had coddled my French prune plum tree.  I had bought it from a nursery and couldn’t wait to taste those juicy flavorful plums.  The first year, obviously there would be none.  That was understood.  The second spring I saw three or four hopeful flower buds, but nothing came of them.  The third spring I spotted a whole load of buds and to my great elation, five of them eventually budded into real-live plums.  At first they looked like little
capers, then they became olive sized.  Each day I would wander out to look at my bounty in great anticipation.  I was looking forward to making my grandmother's plum jam or this wonderful plum tort.  I know that wasn’t going to happen with five plums but it was an exciting start.  It was the whole reason I bought that plum tree.  My grandma’s jam is the best thing this side of heaven. I have made it with store-bought plums and my mom and stepdad have even fought over their portion of it.  It’s that good! 

I knew the time was getting closer and closer to picking the plums, and I was getting more and more excited. So the day I went out to harvest my crop was the day I lost a little faith in humanity.  My five plums were gone! Gone, baby, gone!  Not one of them was left. One of those nasty pests of the two-legged variety had stolen my plums. Footprints proved it. I was devastated.  My husband wasn’t happy either.  But being logical, he said, “Well, that’s bound to happen since the tree is planted in the alley, not our yard.” 

That’s right.  I confess, I had made a nice little planter behind my fence. My sister laughs at me and my alley planter.  She calls it the back-forty.  I call it a gift of nature.  A gift to me and my neighbors. When we moved from our large house on six acres to a small lot in town, I had lost a lot of gardening space.  In the new house, I was very limited. Planting in the alley seemed like a good solution.  It was a win/win situation.  The apartment building behind us got a nice little garden to look at, and we gained more space and privacy.  The trees helped block the prying eyes of those apartment dwellers.  But I can’t help wondering if it was one of those dwellers who spotted, coveted, and then stole my plums.

As luck, or bad luck would have it, last spring our beautiful Golden Chain tree on the inside of our garden was blown over in a windstorm. There was no saving it.  After the grand theft of my plums, I had my husband and son move the ornamental Thundercloud flowering plum tree with nice deep burgundy leaves from the herb garden to the alley. Don’t let the name fool you. A flowering plum produces no plums. Then they transplanted my beloved fruit-producing tree inside the yard to take the spot of the Golden Chain tree.  That was last fall.  I don’t know if the plum tree has survived and fully recovered yet or if the shock of moving it will cost me more plums, but I had to give it a try.  In any case, if I can’t have my plums, no one can!
Happy reading,

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  1. This sounds as a must read!!! I can't wait to read whowinsthe garden battle!! Thank you.

  2. I enjoyed William Alexander's "52 Loaves" which he writes about his experience on baking bread and it was a very entertaining read. I have been battles my tomatoes the last few years, so I will definitely need to read this one.