One of the best parts of running Travelers Rest Here is meting YOU. Our new friend Clint reached out to us with an article idea and we loved it. Clint and his wife Koula have lived in our area for more than ten years. They have one dog and two cats and an entire dominion of wild birds in the woods around our home they think of as pets. Clint works as a contractor and Koula works for YMCA Camp Greenville. Clint’s true passions are running, paddleboarding, cooking, exploring Jocassee, writing, reading, growing plants of all types (tomatoes and vegetables specifically!). Clint is a born and bred South Carolina native. Clint’s dream job would be to show people Greenville on foot who have never been here and just plant, maintain, and run a small garden with his wife. Come to think of it, that’s kind of what he does when he’s home. He’s working on a novel based in North Greenville County now based on characters and events of the past.
We think you’ll love his take on growing tomatoes mixed with a little down-home history and nostalgia. Welcome to our online community here, Clint – we’re happy to have you!
by Clint Keels
April – the siren song for home gardeners and enthusiasts alike.
It’s long been said in the Farmer’s Almanac that around Good Friday or any day after are safe bets for planting outside. Meaning, no more frost and harsh cold … allegedly.
This April milestone (or any day soon after) has long been the summer garden nod for planting in my family for over 4 generations.
My grandmother, “E”, seeded her vegetables by hand while I sat perched, lurking over her on watch on a multi-colored enamel flecked stool; equally as old as the Keels’ family seeding and planting practice. E meticulously labeled tongue suppressors with names like Sugar Baby or Yellow Crookneck while we sat in the modest greenhouse behind her home in the South Carolina low-country community of Sardis. We braved cool January mornings in the greenhouse planting seed trays and afternoons raking wheelbarrows of pine straw covering the ground like streamers on parade floats passing Sunrift in December. That work and preparation was for many plants and many vegetables.
But to me, it was for one thing and one thing only. The summer time yield of the ruby-globed, the ox-heart shaped, the gold of the garden; the coveted tomato.
Those cold days between January and March that lead up to planting were like waiting on Santa Claus sometimes. I lived for the days E and I could carefully pry those small root and stem systems out of their uniformed pod trays and put them to earthen rows. The days from Good Friday until pickin’ days were worse. When the time finally came, E and I would pick them early in the thick and humid July mornings before going to Santee for the weekend. They found their way into salads, sandwiches, and often served as a stand alone beside BBQ chicken. They were given to family members and they were also hung in plastic grocery sacks on the door knobs of neighbors.
Tomatoes are the universal Southern summer handshake; they are a story.
Hanging somewhere in the balance between fickle and frequent, the tomato has long been the obsession of many home gardeners and boutique growers alike.
Cherokee Purple, Pruden’s Purple, Hillbilly Flame, Dwarf Lemon Ice, Big Rainbow, and Louisiana Gulf State are all common names in the circles of fanatics. We see them at the stands May through October, hosted by our local farms like Reedy River, Greenbrier, Wet Knot, and many others. They fill colorful pots on the porches of houses on Cooper and Center Street in town. Here in Travelers Rest, we dedicate a whole Saturday at the market to who-can-out-make-who for the best sandwich with tomatoes being the focal point. At the end of the day, the homegrown tomato is the summertime talk of the table at our Saturday night cook out or Sunday dinner.
Most of us have had some extra time on our hands the last month and a half with the rapid changes taking place locally and globally. Why not take the time and put your good where it’ll do its best; plant your home garden and give tomatoes a try. It’s cheap, it’s fun, and it offers an opportunity to connect with ourselves, others, and the earth. Our local markets, farm and garden stores, and independent dealers are all great starting points. They offer a wealth of resources and knowledge.
This growing season, dive off into the rewards a home garden bring. Home gardens are inexpensive, fun, and a great way to cultivate family memories. Aside from our market and growers, YouTube, Google, and home and garden books are other invaluable tools that can be sourced for ideas. From large to small, from simple to intricate – there is something for us all. If nothing else, get a few potted vegetable plants, cultivate, and host a meal. Let your harvest be a conversation about food.
There has never been a better time than now to connect with our food and growing your own this season is a great start!