Friday, 28 January 2011

Staking out the Tomatoes

Today I was off sick from work, so it gave me a chance to go and look at my garden in the daylight. And to behold all the weeding that I have to do before I start planting in a month or two. January is always the worst time for a garden. Everything is dead and covered in cat shit. Those things which you truly hope aren't dead but only look like they are - shrubs, bushes, trees, bulbs etc. - really aren't giving you any help with the matter.

Every year, one of the best crops I get is usually from tomatoes. I imagine I must have the correct sort of soil and sun for them - I don't really know. I am a very laissez-faire gardener - I actually like letting things take care of themselves. I nurture without controlling, encourage without dictating. Sometimes I wish that people treated me like that.

I spend, and have spent, so much of my time in other areas of my life in search of understanding of the fundamentals and first-principles that make things tick (and in some ways made myself ill trying to do so) that sometimes, in some spheres, it is nice to just connect. Of course that's already disingenuous. I may not own as many gardening books as I do, say, books on philosophy but that doesn't mean that I don't know how to garden. I do know how to garden, I just don't know the theory, and I am a lot better at it than I am at being a Philosopher.

One thing I do know is that you need to stake tomato plants. I know that instinctively and I know that from reading the seed packets and from talking to my friends who also like to do gardening. I know it well enough that when I went to visit my then-pregnant sister in Liverpool during the summer I spent about two hours saving one tomato plant I had planted for her on my last visit from an overgrown tangle and constructing a massive network of sticks and string to make sure it would survive and provide a small number of fruits. Apparently I will happily drive for 6 hours to sort out someone else's tomatoes (someone who at this time is sofa-bound and so nowhere near the tomatoes, and therefore nowhere near me) - this was clearly something important.

My own plants? I knew that they probably needed stakes, but they were looking so good. They were a bush type, so they had a structure, an outer form that spoke of self-reliance and inner strength. They were healthy, they started to produce green fruit; they were coping. They were more than coping, they were thriving. The whole summer there was always something more important to do. The pumpkins, or the courgettes, or the potatoes needed looking after. I didn't have any canes - I know I could have easily picked some up from the B&Q less than a mile away, but I didn't think I needed to.

The tomatoes ripened quickly. As they did they grew, and they grew big - I had planted this variety precisely because, although it was not the prettiest the fruit was rich and juicy. The fruit was so rich and juicy that all but the smallest broke the stalks of the plant it grew on, falling to rest on the soil but still attached to the whole and instant food for slugs and worms. From the four plants, in the space of about a week I rescued maybe a pound of fruit.

Sometimes the things that you wish for aren't always the things that you need.

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