I swore last year I wasn’t planting one. Then spring sprung and before you know it I was at the nursery buying plants—all the time knowing the potential for heartbreak was great.
I started early and carefully hardened my Early Girl’s setting them outside daily for ever increasing amounts of time. While I was doing that I aerated and fertilized the soil. Next I installed a drip system and built covers for the plants in the event of a late freeze. For once maybe I’d thought of everything!
With every effort my bad gardening memories were being buried like seed. Only one lingered—Chase at five picking all my green tomatoes because he’d seen Rabbit do that on Winnie the Pooh. I didn’t laugh at the time but now it’s too cute to forget.
Planting day came and I carefully transplanted my girls.
In mid June I had my first harvest. Some of my friends were jealous that I’d beat them by a few weeks. Secretly, I patted myself on the back feeling proud. This had all the markings of a banner year. After two bad years in a row I was thrilled.
Then a few weeks ago I noticed my bite-size yellow tomatoes were not doing well. I didn’t panic because this plant was in a wine barrel that had vexed me before. Assuming it was the pot I pulled the plant and swore never to use it again.
My other plants were still thriving. In fact they were growing so much I had to prune them back so they didn’t tip over. But then there was a big lull in ripened fruit. Lots of green tomatoes were hanging on the limbs but they weren’t beginning to blush.
It was time to fertilize so I did that and waited. Ten days later when there should have been at least some orange I took a closer look. That’s when I spotted it—dry mottled leaves on the interior of the plant and brown veins covering the green fruit.
I went to the nursery and set a sampling I’d snipped on the counter. The Master Gardener looked at me and promptly said, “You have a virus. Pull the plant.”
“It’s nothing you did,” she said. “Tomato plants get viruses any number of ways but primarily they come from an insect. The trouble is once the insect infects the plant it doesn’t matter if you kill the insect.”
“Is there anything at all I can do to try and save the plant?” I asked.
“You could try cutting out all the diseased branches and tomatoes and see how the plant does but I wouldn’t be very hopeful.”
That being said I drove home debating the merits of this idea. Should I just pull the plant or wait and see what happens after pruning it? I worried about leaving it thinking this might put the neighboring plant at risk. I also didn’t want to give up. That’s not in my nature.
I stopped at the grocery store to get some supplies for dinner with the hope there would be some kind of sign for me. Maybe I’d walk in and see a nice display of tomatoes and that would encourage me to hang in there. Instead, I got a nickel and four pennies. Not what I wanted. Nine is one short of a perfect ten. This made me angry.
In my head I told God I was not happy. Why despite all my noble gardening efforts couldn’t I get a bumper crop? I did everything right and it’s not like they’re just for me. I share them with my neighbors, parents, and friends. Everyone is counting on me I reasoned.
I left the store and found another nine cents which prompted me to dig my heels in. I’m saving this crop I stubbornly told God. I drove home ready to prune my way toward a comeback.
I walked in the backdoor, set my things down, and headed toward the garden. That’s when I discovered it wasn’t such a good idea to get sassy with God. On the ground lay my plant toppled over by the wind. It started to rain and I couldn’t bring myself to go in. I had to scoop my Early Girl up and put her in the compost pile. Lying on the ground in a cage didn’t suit her.
Mother Nature had won. While the rain impressed this point on me I was reminded how dangerous in life it is to get attached to outcomes. We all want happy endings. Who doesn’t? But, when they don’t come your efforts have not necessarily been in vain. Joy can be found in the process of nurturing something as much as enjoying whatever fruit there may be.
That’s the lesson to be learned. Nine isn’t perfect but nine is still something. Every harvest in your life can’t be a bumper crop. But if you got some sun on your cheeks, dirt under your nails, and a dose of humility along the way—you are the better for it.
“Sometimes just to touch the ground is enough for me, even if not a single thing grows from what I plant.”
― Andy Couturier