Often have I admitted in these posts that my nickname might well be “The Brown Thumb of Death” when it comes to horticulture. I even made some plastic flowers wilt once, as I recall. And this frustrates me because it seems that all of us are called in our lives to be nurturing and productive.
Last year I planted two tomatoes, sweet bell peppers in several colors and a few different chilies. Since I really don’t have a garden, I’m confined to using pots and window boxes for these experiments. Sadly, despite my constant attention and care and watering, the entire crop failed.
I thought about this as I viewed the shriveled stalks of these fruits and vegetables and tried to figure out what I had done wrong – yet again. So I thought, perhaps a 24” pot is not of sufficient size to accommodate two tomato plants. Next year I’ll try again with only one and see what happens. And I’ll follow the advice I received to plant it on March 1st and not wait until the middle of the month.
So this year I went to the local nursery and resisted my temptation to buy two Early Girl plants and walked out with only one as well as two cents change from my dollar bill. It was a struggle getting out with only the one plant. There were any number of others I would have liked to tried in the window boxes – but I decided they would probably have a better chance of survival with someone else. So I came home with my lone tomato plant which held its place of honor on the passenger’s seat in the front of the car.
A few days later came March 1st. I had already prepared the soil in my Early Girl’s intended pot – a fine mixture of good soil and the rich compost I cultivate and early in the morning I put her in her new home. I was proud of myself. I had actually centered her and she was standing straight and tall. I gave her the first bath with the Brita-filtered water that has been her exclusive drink since she came home with me. And I sat back and admired my handiwork – and prayed that I had not condemned this poor fragile plant to death.
Then came a cold spell and I worried that she might have caught frostbite. Should I have put a plastic cover on her overnight? Maybe I should have waited until the middle of the month and this all could have been avoided. But my Early Girl survived and I continued her morning and evening showers with filtered water. And in a few weeks I could see that she had grown and was beginning to flower.
I counted the flowers each morning and night realizing that each one might become a tomato. Six, nine, fourteen. And then one morning there were only eight – but in their place the beginnings of fruit were being born. There were six little tomatoes on the plant. I held my breath thinking that perhaps I finally had found the right path.
And as the days and weeks went by, my plant produced beautiful vine-ripened tomatoes – a total of twelve of them. While they wouldn’t have taken a prize for their size they were respectable and, most importantly, they were delicious. The flavor was much more delicate and yet intense than anything I had purchased in a grocery store in the last ten years. I had done it. Or more correctly, my tomato plant, with a modicum of assistance from me, had done it.
As I had picked the last of this crop I was surprised to notice that there were several new tomatoes that had formed. I hadn’t noticed any flowers as with the first crop, so I continued my filtered-water regimen, day and night. There were only four of them and then one morning there were only two. I couldn’t find the fallen victims and still don’t know what happened to them. But I continued the plant’s care hoping that the two survivors might make it to maturity.
After another week, the crop had increased in size and there are now sixteen tomatoes in various stages of development growing on this hardy plant. And then we leapt in temperature to around 110 degrees and have stayed there for several days. A respite has been a high of only 105. I’m pretty sure that this is hardly the ideal weather in which tomatoes flourish.
But I have been tending to my plant day and night and her fruit seems to be growing both in size and number. How can she withstand this heat wave? I don’t know but she apparently is putting her best root forward to do what she knows is her job – to give the world tomatoes to enjoy.
While I am hopeful that these tomatoes will ripen and be as delicious as the first crop, I don’t know whether that will happen if we have extended periods of extreme heat. All I can do is my part which is to provide her with water morning and evening and a little pep talk at each meal. Beyond that, what shall be shall be.
But what I learned from my previous years’ attempts at horticulture and from this year’s experience are the following:
Greed impelled me to plant twice as many tomato plants as I should have so that I would have twice as many to eat. But the result of my greed was that I wound up with nothing.
The second lesson came from seeing how my plant survived and bore new fruit despite poor growing conditions. My plant didn’t give up. If I had said, well, there is no way this plant is going to survive this heat and bear any more fruit and had stopped watering her, she would now be part of the compost heap and the fruits which she has produced would never have come about.
But despite the fact that I doubted anything productive would come of it, I continued my regimen of watering. And I proved myself wrong. And that was my biggest takeaway.
If we try something we might fail or we might succeed. But if we decide not to try, we have written our own history of failure. And we deserve to fail because that is the path we have chosen.
My tomato plant didn’t give up even though she was confronted with horribly adverse conditions. And if we follow that example, we might all achieve great things, despite the seemingly overwhelming odds set against us.