A tomato’s perspective

Colleen hasn’t given up hope that her garden will be able to

Let me start by saying I want to grow. When I don’t grow, it’s
not because I’m being stubborn or I’m trying to play tricks on you,
the novice gardener, just to be smart.
Let me start by saying I want to grow. When I don’t grow, it’s not because I’m being stubborn or I’m trying to play tricks on you, the novice gardener, just to be smart.

My dream, as an infant tomato, is to grow into a meaty, juicy, bright red fruit, the kind bursting with that sweet, almost tart flavor that goes so well in salads and on burgers. After all, that’s why you’re growing me in the first place, right?

So, to make my dream come true, I’d like to give you a few friendly pointers. Because when it comes down to it, you are in charge of my destiny. And keep in mind, I’m not just speaking for myself here but also for my entire family and friends of warm season vegetables, including corn, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, green beans and okra.

First of all, we like water, but not as much as you sometimes assume. I’ve noticed you water me quite a bit. I appreciate the thought, especially on those warm, summer days, but remember: I love the sun. In fact, my whole family loves the sun so much that we ask you plant us in a spot that gets six to eight hours of sunshine a day.

If you’re unsure about when to water me, don’t be afraid to touch my soil. If you plant me in crumbly, sand-like soil, I’m going to need water more frequently than if you plant me in heavy, clay-like soil, which retains water. My friend, the squash, and I will let you know if we’ve been watered too much because we’ll swell up and start looking a bit odd. In that case, stop giving us water until our soil dries out, then water us again – but not as much this time, OK?

As for when to plant me, right about now – during spring – is ideal. But don’t just plant me outside from the get-go and expect me to adapt. I’m sensitive, you see, and I need time to adjust to the outdoors.

Start me out in a pot inside. Over the course of two or three weeks, gradually introduce me to the outside by setting me in the sun for a few hours at a time, adding another hour or so each day until you think I’m ready to be outdoors full time. When you plant me, plant me deeply into the ground.

As important as it is to us, vegetable cannot live on sunshine alone. My family and I also like vegetable garden fertilizer, especially the organic kind, which you can buy at gardening supply stores. And call me needy, but I love wire cages because they give me support to grow, and the same is true for my friend the pepper. The cages are inexpensive, but if you don’t want to buy one, you can make your own with some chicken wire.

Also, please, let me breathe. When you try to plant me in a small space with a bunch of my brothers and sisters crammed together, it just doesn’t work. I need at least a three-foot-by-three-foot space to grow, but preferably even bigger. My friend corn, on the other hand, doesn’t need as much room. Rows that are planted about six to eight inches apart will do just fine.

Don’t think I blame all of my problems on you, as I know other factors can hamper my growing. I’ve seen it happen too many times: The gardener does everything right, and just when the unsuspecting vegetables are growing tall and proud, all of the sudden they’re a personal buffet for gophers, deer and harmful insects.

Even though that’s not your fault, you still can help. If you live in an area where wildlife is common, build a small wire fence around us to deter the critters from wandering into our home. To get rid of gophers, before you plant us, plant some wire underneath us so they can’t burrow near us.

While animals eat us in one giant chomp, insects threaten a slower, more painful death, gnawing away at our fruit and leaves until we’ve been reduced to nothing.

Again, we depend on you to come to the rescue – but please, try not to use pesticides. There are plenty of non-toxic sprays out there that leave a film of soap on our leaves, which suffocates the bad insects. But our fruit is not harmed by the sprays and neither are beneficial insects, which help us grow by eating the bad guys.

Also, every now and then, we need a close inspection to make sure we are free of diseases. I hate to sound weak, but I’m especially vulnerable to sickness. Diseases among vegetables travel easily, but if you spot them before they have a chance to grow, you can curb them by spraying us with special disease controls.

I hope I’ve helped. I have faith in you; I really do. If you need some more help, try reading the “California Master Gardener Handbook,” a 700-plus-page resource for gardeners both beginning and advanced. Published by the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners, the book is $35 and can be purchased by calling (800) 994-8849.

Special thanks to Elaine Levine, a volunteer with the Santa Clara County Master Gardeners, and Katharine Wright, a master gardener with the Monterey Bay County Master Gardeners.

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