Sunday, May 15, 2011

You Say Tomato

Let me tell you about my fifth child. First, you know, I have Grace. Then Emma's second, and third is baby Will. Max comes in at fourth place. (He's the dog.) I remember - but only very vaguely - a time when he was the first and only, but since my human babies started coming, Max has had to come to terms with his new rank, dead last. The good news for him, though, is he finally has a younger brother: Thirsty, my tomato plant.

Thirsty spends his days in a pot in a sunny corner of the pool deck. He's been known to be unruly and a little high maintenance. But I understand where he's coming from. There's a lot of sibling rivalry, for one thing - he has to compete for attention against so many - and it took awhile for me to adjust to having yet another set of needs to attend to. There have been times, I know, when he feels...desiccated, but I'm glad he hasn't given up.

From the beginning, I have checked on him every day, often two or three times a day. At first I worried about browning leaves and leaf miner tracks (listen to me - I sound like I know what I'm talking about), but when those things didn't kill him, I let them go. The thing that has been the most worrisome is he has had a tendency to dry out so fast I have had a hard time keeping up with it. Every other day I would pour an entire bucket of water over him, by increments, letting each portion soak into and through his soil before pouring on more. But if I didn't get to it at least every other day, for whatever reason - maybe because I had a babe in arm or was running out the door or just put it off and forgot about it - stalks would bend over to the ground, every leaf would droop. There were times I was afraid I'd lost him.

His fruit bore the marks of his suffering. He developed blossom end rot, which is apparently "especially prevalent when rapidly growing, succulent plants are exposed suddenly to a period of drought." (Yes, like any good mother, I have spent time online researching his ailments.) I have to be honest: from the start, I suspected a little mulch would help. But I didn't know how much it would help. That's why I didn't get around to it for about a month. I intended to go buy some. Finally it occurred to me to just borrow some old mulch from the front shrub bed (with my bare hands - I have the fire ant bites to prove it.) Once I threw that in Thirsty's pot, life changed for him. If I'd known what it would mean to him, I would have done it sooner. Now, things are going much better, and if they continue this way, I might even have to change his name.

As it is, I'm proud of my little tomato guy. Not only has he shown great fortitude, persevering in all circumstances, he has borne fruit from his trials - literally - and his fruit is something to write home to mama about. It isn't like what you get from the grocery store. His tomatoes are so tomatoey they taste like tomato sauce. Even Daddy gives them high marks, and Daddy doesn't like tomatoes. Daddy even suggested planting more tomato plants, which is really not like him because up until now he has not been into gardening, especially not into me gardening (though he puts up with it as long as I don't do it in the front yard.) The sight of what he deems my half-begun, abandoned science experiments (you have to fail before you succeed!) symbolizes for him a chaos that is on the verge of overtaking our life. It gives him anxiety. The thought of Daddy getting in on the game, though, and taking my little horticultural brood under his wing makes me feel not so alone. It gives me hope for the future of our homestead, especially if he'll be in charge of irrigation.

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