"The raw tomato, devoured in the garden when freshly picked, is a horn of abundance of simple sensations, a radiating rush in one's mouth that brings with it every pleasure. . . . a tomato, an adventure." - Muriel Barbery
What can a tomato plant teach you about life? Well, more than I expected after I sat with mine awhile. As I am dipping my toe into this garden life, I spend some time each morning tending to my tomato plants, learning as I go.
I have six kinds of tomato babies:
A dear friend and garden witch gifted me these precious tomato seedlings whom she coaxed into the world. She selected the varieties intuitively from amongst her many seedlings in red solo cups, adding a dash of her magic to my little garden.
Good Roots to Start
When you get them home to pot them, pluck off those bottom leaves and bury them deep so they’ll get good roots, she said.
I hear that, tomato baby. I’ve had to pluck off some extra leaves, let go of some unnecessary sprouts, to let my roots grow good and deep. Holding on too much to those first few leaves around the bottom, you’ll grow out instead of up, squat and stunted, never reaching up for the sun.
As these plants grow taller, they need a little help standing upright. They’d keep growing wild, spreading out on the ground, but a good wire cage or wooden stake and some string keeps them reaching for the sun, strong and healthy.
I like to think I can do everything on my own, and yeah, I’ve got more than a few leaves growing wild in one direction or another. But really, my community is my wire cage, and they keep me standing strong - when I’ll let them. I’ll fall over a few times before I’m like okay, FINE, I need your help holding myself up.
And that’s alright - we all need a little help to get by, whether we be tomato plants or humans.
What to Prune to Grow
As these tomato babies grow up, they need pruning, all except my Geranium's Kiss babies. You see, there are two types of tomato plants - determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomato plants produce all their fruit at once, and indeterminate ones keep producing through the course of the season. You only need to prune the indeterminate varieties.
The thick center of the plant, the spine, is the main growing stem. The leaf stems grow out of this main growing stem, and the place where the leaf stem meets the growing stem is called an axil. In these spots, the axils, little shoots called suckers grow out, and the suckers are what you prune.
Pruning these suckers improves the plant’s airflow, makes them less susceptible to disease, and allows for bigger fruit that ripens earlier. If you prune it, the tomato plant doesn’t have so many leaves to maintain, it can focus its energy on being healthy and bearing fruit.
If you prune the suckers early enough, you can just pinch them off, and it doesn’t leave a gaping wound on the stem. If you find them later, it’s best to prune them in the morning when it’s dry, and use a sharp knife or set of shears to cut close without damaging the stem.
As I’m pruning my tomato plants, I think about the suckers in my own life, the ones I caught early enough to pinch off and the ones it took a little while to recover from the pruning.
It might have been a habit I picked up that was taking my energy away from really living. It might have been a relationship that wasn’t healthy and I still spent a lot of energy growing it. It might be holding back on a thing I’m feeling called to do or try - it takes a lot of energy to ignore a strong pull.
How many suckers have I spent growing, wondering why disease was popping up all over my stems? How often have I put my energy into every stem and sucker, surprised when I only come up with small, unripe tomatoes?
As I’m moving through this summer season, what suckers do I need to pinch off so I can keep reaching for that sun?
I suppose those are some deep thoughts for a simple tomato plant. But I think I’ll take the lessons from you this season, tomato baby.
Take care of your roots, let that wire cage hold you up, and prune early and often. Maybe we’ll both end up a little sweet, a little spicy, and just hoping to bear some fruit while we’re here.
Peace, love, & belonging,
Bonnie Plants. 2021. Webpage. 2 July 2021.
Lacey, Gary Ibsen and Dagma. TomatoFest: The Tomato Lover's Paradise. 2019. Webpage. 2 July 2021.
Pinetree Garden Seeds. 2021. Webpage. 2 July 2021.
Sherwood's Seeds. 2021. Webpage. 2 July 2021.