The Challenge of Growing Tomatoes

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Photo by Carol Ann Sayle

As evening neared, I tilled fertilizer and compost into seven beds in our back field, I could see the shady backyard and the farm house as I worked in the 90 degree sun. I could feel the cool inside and hear the air conditioner in my mind. The sweat dribbled down my face and turned amazingly chilly with a wind springing up now and then out of the north. But a now-and-then breeze doesn't cut this kind of heat. As soon as I finished the beds, I drove the tractor to the farm house and gratefully parked it for the night.

The humidity had been 100 per cent when we began work at 7 a.m. and dew thickly coated the Bermuda grass and the tomato leaves. Our plans to continue tying up tomatoes had to be postponed until the plants dried. To touch them one to another might transfer some deadly virus or otherwise get them riled up. You'd think, alas, with all the sunshine they get, their immune systems would thwart any potential terrorist attack, but moist to the touch, they become "bubble boys." Of course there was plenty to do elsewhere. Weeds always call us.

Lots of work these tomatoes are, but the satisfaction of seeing the first ones form and grow large is worth it.

The day before, Larry and I got a lot of the heirloom tomatoes tied into hedges before it got too hot. The tomato plants smelled so good as their essence tinted our hands and arms and stained our pants legs. We were pretty much olive green when we finished.

Washing my hands later in the bathroom sink, the retreating water turned as yellow as if it were dyed. Lots of work these tomatoes are, but the satisfaction of seeing the first ones form and grow large is worth it. The only thing that can go wrong now is a good hail storm, a string of hot nights preventing the abundant flowers from "setting" fruit, or a return of the spider mites. But by golly, there are tomatoes in the "bellies" of these vines and they look like a sure thing!

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Carol Ann Sayle is co-founder and co-owner of Boggy Creek Farm, a five-acre urban, organic farm in Austin, Texas.

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