reaping what I’ve sown
Tags: Capturing Beauty's Rainbow Challenge, cherry tomato, consequences, disease and pests in the garden, heavy rain, insect population balance, learning curve for organic gardening, mud, organic garden, overenthusiasm, plant spacing, Steve Solomon, the role of insects in the organic garden, tomato blight, victory garden
Right after the deluge, I took this photo. A whole branch of cherry tomatoes was ripening basically in the mud. We had not sprayed anything toxic in our garden, so we didn’t have to worry about what might be in that mud, and we could still eat the fruits that landed there — unless the birds got to them first. Birds seem to regard anything that has touched the ground as fair game.
What is most interesting about this photograph to me, as a brand new 100% organic gardener, is not the bright red fruits — although they do gleam like jewels there in that muddy setting; don’t they?
It’s the leaves that draw my attention. The Victory Garden has confirmed the truth of what I’d read from several sources, most recently Steve Solomon: that the insects actually perform a valuable service in the natural world, weeding out the unhealthy plants, and will rarely attack a healthy plant with enough force to damage it — unless the local insect population is out of balance due to monocropping or repeated use of pesticides in the area.
Our tomato plants in this area were already beginning to worry me, even before the cool rains came. My spacing had been a little tight at the beginning of the season. This is because I was overly ambitious and wanted to try too many different kinds of plants for the space I had available. Also, because I have difficulty walking out of a nursery without buying one more tomato plant. (As I mentioned before.)
I forgive myself for that. It was my first real kitchen garden, and I was bound to be enthusiastic and ambitious. It’s in my nature to tackle things with a little too much oomph! at the beginning, and I actually don’t mind that character flaw. I’d much rather go too far toward that end of the spectrum, rather than live my life tilted toward apathy.
Still, there are consequences to the choices made under the influence of my imbalanced character. One is that the tomato plants had basically grown into one another’s space, becoming a wild tangle. A worrisome development, as the plants need air circulation to resist disease.
Add in some rain, a little mud spatter, and let the leaves stay wet and chilled for about four and a half days… and some kind of blight entered the Victory Garden. It may have been there all along, just that the healthy plants were able to fight off any would-be invaders.
Not so after the heavy rains. Sigh.
And within hours, or so it seemed to me, I had major insect damage where before there was almost none. I’m imagining two possible scenarios from the point of view of whatever is chowing down on the tomato leaves.
- It’s autumn, and the plants are already slowing production and will soon be gone. Let’s not waste this glorious feast.
- These are sick, elderly plants. Mother Nature is urging us to clear the land for new, healthy shoots next season.
Either way, several of the tomato plants are now doomed.
I’m just grateful it took until September for me to reap what I’d sown in planting too close together. There is a learning curve to organic gardening, and you have to be as gentle with yourself as you are with the land. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t beat yourself up about it. (My first two years were disaster!)
I’ll definitely be more wise about tomatoes next year. For one thing, I planted way too many cherry tomato plants. We had far more than we could eat all summer, and I’m just about sick of them. I could go a few months without eating one and not miss them. It sounds crazy, when they are so good, but we’ve got a bowl of them in the kitchen right now that both of us are resolutely avoiding — and many more are sitting on the plants, waiting for me to come out with my little basket and pluck them.
For another thing, 20 tomato plants is too many for 2 people. I’m limiting myself to a half-dozen next year. Well, I’ll try to limit myself, anyway. I haven’t been too skilled at limiting myself in too many areas of life so far. But practice makes perfect; right?
(Today is the start of a new week of Capturing Beauty‘s R-O-Y-G-B-I-V challenge. And that means Red.)