Urban tomato farming is offering some unexpected life lessons. I thought the big tomato questions this summer would be how many tomatoes and what size and what we'd do with all of them. I've been making up guest lists in my head for weeks and picturing the homemade tomato sauce that will bowl everyone over. It will be grand.
However, I didn't realize there'd be fine-tuning involved, if we're ever going to get there.
I've grown a lot of tomatoes in my day and my methods were pretty basic. I popped open the Del Monte can that came with dirt and seeds already set up and added water. When they were big enough, I moved them into a sunny place in the backyard and hoped for the best. After that, I watered them if it was a dry summer and staked the vines with strips from someone's old T-shirt, but there was no pruning, no measuring and no worrying over what might happen. We always had a nice bounty.
This summer has been a different story.
Both the traditional upright tomato plant and the two Topsy Turvy plants hanging off of the balcony are growing like well, weeds. There are blossoms and vines that are reaching out in every direction. Next year, I may not hang them so close to the door. The traditional upright tomatoes of the past only grew to four feet at their best.
I really didn't envision the upside-down vines getting to be longer than six feet and still growing. I have to open the back door more slowly these days and I regularly get caught in at least one of the vines. It's all good.
However, it would seem that trying to raise anything or anyone is never without hitches.
There are soft black spots appearing on the bottom of some of the new green tomatoes hanging from the Topsy Turvy plants. My tomato plants just aren't feeling the love.
My neighbors on the balcony across the way, who have filled their entire large balcony with upright plants, said it was a calcium deficiency. A quick internet search confirmed it and said that the watering has to be consistent and heavy to correct the problem. I've spotted the wife up on the balcony wearing a mask and brushing the plants with a fine, white powder. If gadgets and chemicals are involved, then I may be in over my head.
I thought I was making progress as an urban farmer because I have a box of Miracle Gro plant food specifically for tomatoes. It seems that may no longer be enough. This has to be another example of how we've messed with our ecosystem too much when someone can't throw a few tomato plants upside down and then water them every day and harvest a nice crop.
Apparently, change happens and consistency and accountability are necessary everywhere in order to achieve the results. A wise woman once told me that when we're younger we get away with a lot more because we're just learning and God gives us a break. In other words, there's compensation for being new to the world and we won't be given more than we can handle.
But once we've had a chance to put down our own roots, a little more is going to be asked of us and we're going to have to show up more in order to keep moving ahead. It'll never be more than we can handle, but we can stop selling ourselves short and mumbling our excuses or justifications or list of things to do as a way of shrinking back from a bigger life.
It's amazing how often I've stopped short of crossing over to a grander playing field because I became worried about what would be asked of me, and decided ahead of time that it was too much. I was making decisions ahead of the information without actually trying and letting things just happen.
There are lots of nooks and crannies in our lives where we can stretch, if we can just let go of the need to know ahead of time how it will all happen. Tomatoes may just be a great place to start. More adventures to follow.
Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail Martha at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.