Early Girl

My husband and I planted a garden this year.

It’s been a bit of an experiment to see what all will actually grow in the space we have with the amount of sunlight we get (or, rather, don’t get). Some of our plants have certainly been more successful than others, and I’ve learned a lot from the process.

The biggest surprise for me is that my tomatoes, of all things, have consistently been the “happiest” out of all of them. Tomatoes don’t usually grow well where I live. It stays fairly cool and damp for most the year, and it can be difficult if not impossible to keep the blight away.


The very first tomato start my husband and I bought this year was an Early Girl…
which broke in the wind overnight after a couple of days – something I could have seen coming  (and kind of did), and certainly could have prevented by covering it. I had the tomato cages and the fabric; I just didn’t do it.

It wasn’t completely snapped-in-two-dead, just all split and bent over, so my husband staked it up with some bamboo skewers and twine, and it actually lived. It put out some new leaves, and some flowers – but was much slower to grow, and stayed a lot smaller than the other tomato starts we bought and planted around the same time.

Days and weeks passed, and I noticed it looked like the stem was trying to grow thicker than the skewers and twine would allow it, and it seemed pretty sturdy, so I carefully snipped away the twine and gently pulled the skewers out. It seemed fine.

Until the next day. The next day it looked very, very sad. And for the next couple of days, it just drooped and drooped.

I guess I must have learned to do this as a kid, even though I don’t necessarily remember it per se, but somehow I knew that what I ought to do was to pile the soil up around the stem, up past the break, and give it extra water.

earlygirl1

After a few days of that, the plant had perked up a little, but still looked pretty sad – but I had a hunch that I knew what was going on – so I grabbed another pot and some lighter soil to transplant, and started carefully digging and brushing away soil to lift out all of the root matter.

Sure enough, the stem came apart where the break had been. It had decayed right below the break line after being buried and watered, and the upper portion of the stem just popped completely free of the little clump of soil and tangled roots I was holding, and rolled into my other hand, all stem and leaves and flowers; not a lick of dirt on it.

But at the new “base” of the stem, there were roots! Not long roots, but THICK roots, radiating out in all directions. So I put it in the new pot, in the lighter soil, buried nice and deep and seated in most of its old root matter so that the new roots would have a little more to grab onto.


I had the sad realization over the course of nursing this poor little plant back to something vaguely resembling health, that this is basically the story of my life in the tiniest nutshell.

I don’t like to think of myself as having been “broken” in childhood, and I’ve denied it to myself for a very long time (because I have so many GOOD memories, and because who wants to think that about their childhood?), but I know better now.

But, much like this sad, stunted little tomato plant – I am also putting out new roots. It’s possible. It can be done. And you know, I always knew that – but this was a very pertinent and timely reminder.

I have this idea in my head that might sound a little bit crazy, partly because I can’t necessarily explain it very well, but it goes like this: everything is a microcosm and a macrocosm. Everything scales, principally, from the lowest to the highest. This popped into my head years ago, when I was about as far away from God as I’ve ever been, but I believe this idea to be the first glimmerings of my understanding of what tradition would call The Natural Order. God’s order.

I’m not the sort to write cutesy stories about God as a gardener, but I understand now why someone else might.

And check it out:

earlygirl2

Not only did this plant survive: in spite of never catching up to the other plants in size, it is sturdier AND has produced – indisputably – the BEST tomatoes. That may be owing a lot to the variety (our other plants were a “Celebrity” variety and a couple of Red Cherries), but we’ve been quite impressed regardless.

In fact, here we are well past mid-October, and I’m STILL harvesting tomatoes here and there. Tomatoes from the other plants have started to turn a little mealy and less flavorful since the weather has turned cooler and cloudier – but the Early Girl is still putting out fruit that is firm and sweet. I picked these just last night for burgers:

tomatoes

I’m no master gardener. It’s been so many years since I’ve worked the soil, I really stumbled (and Googled) my way through this experiment. Most of my garden is ready to be torn up now.

I did a lot of things wrong this year, in choosing locations to plant and in caring for the things I planted. A lot of things didn’t thrive. All of my kale has been completely devoured by critters long before I could harvest it. Absolute kale massacre. All of my squash and cucumbers got weird mold and died (my neighbors have said this happened to them, too, and was unusual – so maybe that’s not my fault).

It has been impossible, over the course of my little gardening endeavor, to NOT draw parallels between gardening and mothering; raising plants vs. raising humans. There are too many principle similarities.

Lots of people have the wacked-out notion that children benefit from early exposure to all of life’s elements.

Hey! I’ve been there. I got broken. Kinda like that tomato plant I neglected to properly shelter.

I have nevertheless healed and I have also borne good fruit.

But, you know, it would have been better to have not been broken in the first place.

Just like the Early Girl, I’ll never know how much taller I might have grown – figuratively speaking – or how much more fruit I might have borne.

Not that I’m going to try to stack quantity up against quality.

But I’m astounded at how many people understand the importance of sheltering and protecting the newest and most vulnerable of lives when it comes to plants and beasts – but not humans. I’ve known lots of women like this. Women who would have shed tears over my silly little broken tomato plant, and cheered with joy at its eventual victory… but would criticize me for “coddling” my children, for being protective, for keeping them as far as I can from all of life’s storms, until I am confident they can weather them like capable young men.

They point to the possibility of healing and call it a good reason to encourage the kind of carelessness that leads to brokenness in the first place.

Like pointing to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and calling it a very good reason to indulge in all manner of sin.

Those people can go get bent.

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