The weather has been dreadful this summer. A drought has blanketed this area, as well as almost the entire United States, with a devastating heat that has ruined many crops. Rain happens less and less, and most farmers are wringing their collective hands, wondering how they will survive. In a very small way, I garden and have tomatoes ripening on the vine. At the Farmer’s Market down on the square, one gardener told me that all of his green pepper plants had stopped flowering, or if they did flower, they just dropped off the plants to the ground.
This last spring, as I watched the seeds sprout in their tiny cups of organic soil that I put on trays and placed around my cabin in front of windows, I felt so much joy as I noted every bit of new growth. I gave birth twice in my life, and with the nurturing of the seedlings in my makeshift nursery, I felt the same happiness I felt back then, as I anticipated the development of these tiny seeds into viable plants that one day would give fruit. I watched these seedlings, talked to them, and watered them twice a day.
I had thirty-six tomato seedlings, several varieties, all from heirloom seeds. As they grew, I spent time out in the garden trying to visualize exactly where I would plant them when the time came. I picked a spot and began preparing the area. First, I had to eliminate all of the weeds that had taken over, sometimes using a spade to loosen the soil around the roots. I would then pull the weeds and toss them to the side, making small piles to add to the compost. It was laborious, although satisfying, to clear a space for the babies I would soon place in the ground. I studied the Farmers Almanac for the days good for planting and marked the calendar. At this point, rain was still coming, and I did not worry about how I would keep everything watered. I just tended my seedlings and I waited.
It was in early March that I started my growing project. By early May, many of the seedlings were ready to go in the ground. I took six to eight plants at a time over to the garden, set them aside and then, with my spade, dug deep holes. I made the diameter of each hole about sixteen inches, and the depth was at least fourteen inches. I had some compost starter and some peat moss on hand and tossed this in to the bottom of each hole, mixed it thoroughly with the soil. With care, I removed each small tomato plant from the small home it had known since birth and placed it in the ground, its new setting, where I trusted each one might be nourished and grow. I watered each plant and spoke aloud to each of them saying, “I hope you will be happy here. Please grow, and I promise I will give you plenty of water.” I always started the planting in the late afternoon, so that the heat of the day would not harm them. I had plenty of hay with which to mulch each plant, and around each one, I placed a cage, in hopes, they be protected from anything that might wish to eat them. In addition, I expected these plants to become tall and full, and the cages would support them in this.
It took several days to get all of the tomatoes planted. Actually, I did not get all thirty-six planted. I still have at least six seedlings that I have not planted. They have stayed in their small pots on a table outside my cabin, waiting for me to give them a larger place in which to grow. Along with the tomatoes, I had several varieties of peppers I planted as well, with no less care.
Everyday I checked on these plants, watering them and noticing each new change. The very first plant I had set in the ground began to produce flowers. It was exciting to see the new little tomatoes form, and one day I counted fourteen baby tomatoes on this plant. They grew larger each day, and I looked forward to the day I could pick one.
The rain stopped coming. I used the water from the rain barrels, filling a two-gallon watering can and walking several yards back to the garden. Back and forth, every day, each morning, for at least a week I did this. One day, my neighbor who shares this land with me, who is elderly now and does not relish doing much physical labor, decided to help me with this chore. He backed his truck in to where the rain barrel catches water off his cabin roof, filled five-gallon buckets sitting in the truck bed, brought the water to the garden and transferred it into a fifty-five gallon barrel strategically placed for me to access easily. He made this trip several times until the barrel was full. I was grateful for the help, encouraged by his participation. The plants grew taller, fuller, and began producing flowers. Occasionally it rained, and this happened usually in the afternoon or overnight. On these occasions, I was glad for a break, trusting that the plants were happy. This was not a wrong assumption. The plants were happy, and so were the deer.
One morning, after I had taken a break from going to the garden since it had rained, I went to check on everything. To my dismay, the first plant that had had fourteen medium-size tomatoes was standing there in its cage stripped of all its fruit. It was as though a hand had reached in through the cage and picked every single tomato! The holes in the cage were large enough to do this comfortably, and I tried to imagine which critter might have done this. Was it a bear? No, most likely a deer, a young one with not too large a head had eaten each tomato. I felt such loss, and I wondered what I could do to protect all of the plants I had nurtured.
A day or so later, my neighbor went to town and came back with a roll of chicken wire, which was not cheap, and dropped it off in the garden. The next day, I built a fence around all those plants. I gathered some T-poles I had lying around and stood on the back of the farm truck and pounded each one into the ground. I had only five, so I spaced them so that they would lend support to whatever else I might use to hold up the fencing. In the shed, I found a bundle of four-foot-long stakes, which I placed every fifteen to twenty feet around the perimeter. I unrolled some of the chicken wire, measured out twenty-five feet, and cut away that section. Attaching each section to one pole, I stretched the wire over to the next pole until eventually I had the whole area enclosed. Back in early spring, with the help of my neighbor and his truck, I had cut and gathered up some bamboo I had seen along the highway where road construction had begun. The stalks were at least ten feet long, some were sixteen feet long, and so I tied one stalk to each supporting pole around the perimeter. Then I took the longest stalks I had and placed them horizontally between each vertical pole/bamboo, which gave the illusion of an even taller barricade. I knew this fence was not a strong structure. Any critter could tear it down were it to attempt to jump it, but I built it with such determination to protect the plants, I had faith that it would suffice. For the gate to the area, I left a ten-foot opening in the fencing. I got a twelve-foot long piece of sturdy cage wire, ran three stalks of long bamboo through the holes horizontally in order to brace it, give it more structure. I attached one end of the “gate” to the pole to the left of the opening. The other end of the “gate” I picked up and placed against the fencing at the pole just the other side of the opening. It “stayed put.” Each day I went to water, I was gratified to see it all still standing. Perhaps now the deer would leave these tomatoes alone so they could flourish and produce.
The rain barrel water levels diminished as rain stopped arriving. I started hauling water from another source. I put three large barrels in the back of the farm truck, braced them as best I could, and drove to a spring twenty-five minutes away. Everyone in this county has used this wonderful spring for years and years. It only takes about fifteen or twenty minutes to fill two and a half 55-gallon barrels. The trip back up the mountain out of Boxley Valley with such a load is slow, but once back at the garden with water for everything, it is well worth it. I use all the water I haul within three days, and the plants are producing well.
Each time I water, I can pick and eat fresh cherry tomatoes, as many as I wish. My neighbor, in spite of having contributed as he has to the maintenance of the plants, is reticent of going in and helping himself to the fruit. Thus, I have to pick tomatoes for him and bring them to his door. I know he loves tomatoes, which is partially why I planted so many. The love and the work have paid off. I have beautiful, juicy, shiny tomatoes to eat and soon, to can.
At this point in my life, I am living on social security and a little bit of personal income that is not consistent. It is not enough to cover all my bills. Were I to ignore the bills, I would have enough for food, gasoline, and my phone and internet bill, and to keep the animals fed and treated with heart worm and tick and flea prevention. I quit working the job I had been doing for twenty years, thinking I could get by on what I have coming in. I was mistaken. The flailing economy of this last couple of years has affected the amount of personal income I receive, and the social security check I get is really too small, but mind you, I am so glad to have it. My attempt to go back to work failed. The months I had been free of going to an underpaid job ruined me, and it was an intense struggle to re-adapt to slave mentality. I just could not fit the mold of worker-pleasing-boss. After 90 days, I lost the job I had landed a couple of days after April 17, after the government took over half my income in taxes, leaving me with practically nothing on which to live.
These days I am eating many tomatoes. I am running out of coffee, yogurt, and other foods that I once took for granted. My good neighbor has already contributed dog and cat food for their maintenance, for which I am so grateful. I resist being compelled to find a job. I think I would rather die than get another job. It is so demoralizing to go to a job that pays very little, where you give it your best, and then you are told your performance is not good enough. Just like that, fired, although in this last case, they dragged it out for a week, by first suspending me from going to work for a week, and then calling me to come to a “meeting” so they could announce their decision. I asked them to tell me over the phone, as I barely had enough money for a trip to town. Therefore, they told me, “You are terminated.” My response was, “Well, thank you. Good-bye.” That was a month ago. This morning I awakened with some clarity regarding what I wanted to write.
I had a fantasy at 3:30 A.M. as I got up, of taking my tomatoes to the Farmer’s Market this afternoon and selling them for a dollar apiece. People who buy organically grown food usually have no idea what effort and love one exerts to bring to fruition all that is available to buy. I would never part with my tomatoes for less than a dollar apiece because, first, I know how delicious they are, and second, I know how much energy it took to bring them forth, mostly my old muscles, back, sweat, and love, as well as some tears. I grew these tomatoes with love, and of course, the foundation and cooperation of Mother Earth and the nature divas, which manifest as universal, unconditional, impersonal love in this dimension. In a way, it feels so demeaning to give up the fruit of my labor of love for money. Were I not so broke, I would rather just give them to people, “Here, have a taste of pure love and joy! Have this cherry tomato! You are welcome!” It would be better than handing out tastes of organic dark chocolate, which I also love to eat.
I probably will not go to town to sell my cherry tomatoes. Nobody will pay me a dollar per tomato. It is their loss. Instead, I will call the phone company and ask them to come fix the telephone, as I am not receiving the long-distance calls I expect. People try to call me, but I do not hear the phone ring, so I assume they have not called. I will make a run to the spring for more water, so I can keep the tomatoes happy. I will listen to my intuition, keep my own counsel, and do my best to stay true to myself. In addition, I will eat and share some cherry tomatoes.