Tomato Anxiety is a common affliction among mid-level growers like myself. It’s a deep-rooted fear that you’re going to catastrophically screw up the tomatoes in your garden and get nothing for the season.
As irrational as the fear may seem to those who have never suffered from it, the condition is very much based on real world experiences. In my own case, it comes from two successive seasons of failed tomatoes. Two years ago my novice efforts failed to produce much of anything. Last year my significantly-improved efforts were rewarded with Late Blight which, again, resulted in no tomatoes.
This year I’m working on the farm and will have access to more tomatoes than I can handle when we harvest seed. I will have had a hand in producing these tomatoes from beginning to end. You’d think this would put my fears to rest.
But Tomato Anxiety is a complex condition that defies common sense and logic. Perhaps because I’m working on the farm and growing “professional” tomatoes, my anxiety is increased; I should know what I’m doing.
To really understand the inner workings of Tomato Anxiety, it’s best to refer to the wisdom of Bruce Lee:
Before I learned the art, a punch was just a punch, and a kick, just a kick.
After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick, no longer a kick.
Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick.
Before I started growing my own food, a tomato was just a tomato. After I started growing my own food, a tomato was no longer a tomato. It became both a thing and an event that now confounds me with its complexity. I am only now beginning to walk to path of understanding the Art of Tomato. For comparison, consider the other ends of this learning spectrum.
A tomato is just a tomato. I’ve talked with many novice gardeners at market this season who were confident in their own inexperience growing tomatoes. One woman proudly told me she had just planted her seeds. In the ground. In the second week of June. In western New York.
“It’s a little late for that,” I said conversationally, wanting to encourage her novice efforts. “If they don’t come up, don’t be disappointed.”
“Oh, I’m not worried,” she replied with complete assurance. “I’ve grown them this way before.”
A tomato is a tomato. I’ve talked with Petra many times, usually starting with questions about how we’re planting tomatoes on the farm and gradually slipping in questions about my own at home. I get the feeling she is amused with my condition. But she has been infinitely patient and supportive of my needs as well.
“It all depends,” she said one day as we discussed whether or not to pluck the first flowers from newly transplanted tomatoes. “Just experiment and see what happens this season.”
The response in my brain went something like this: Experiment? Are you f-ing kidding me? I want tomatoes, woman, not just another blog post at the end of the season.
Petra is, of course, correct. Because when you’re a mid-level grower, experimentation is all you can do. There are no “right” answers. A tomato is no longer just a tomato.
In my efforts to understand the Art, I have seven tomato plants growing at home. Six of them are in raised beds I built from repurposed pallets.
A Gold Medal and a Black Prince share one bed. A Gardener’s Sweetheart and a Black Cherry share another. These tomatoes are planted in a 1:1 mixture of organic potting soil reclaimed from last year and seasoned cow manure compost.
Two Gardener’s Sweethearts share the third bed. They are planted in an experimental 1:1 mixture of compost and dirt reclaimed from my workshop floor. I wouldn’t call it “soil” yet.
The seventh plant is a mystery. It was labeled “Glacier” but didn’t look like any of the other Glacier plants. So Matthew gave it to me to grow out. It’s planted in a 1:1 mixture of new organic soil and manure, in a 10 gallon pot. If it is a Glacier variety, it’s semi-determinate and should do fine in the pot.
“Just experiment and see what happens.” Right.
Here we go.