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tomatoes I didn't plant
Episode 1626th September 2023 • PowerPivot • Leela Sinha
00:00:00 00:14:51

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"There was one seed that just got it into its head that it was going to take over the world. And it did."

Growing things that will thrive in the conditions that exist; and also, creating the conditions that allows us to thrive and grow. Sometimes in unexpected places.

Transcript and notes:

Recorded 11 September 2023.


Hey everyone. Thanks for tuning in.

I'm recently on Tik Tok. And one of the videos I made was this tour of my garden. This kind of intensive gay audacity situation where I moved into a house that had raised beds, and I love things that grow. And so I decided to invite some things to grow here and see what we could do.

So far, what we have managed to do is grow a lot of things I didn't plant. And a couple that I did. But I'm trying to get off the nightshade-brassica train, to diversify my food. To get back into the idea that so much of the world around us is in interrelationship with us. And as a result of that, I made a conscious deliberate choice not to plant a lot of nightshades.

I moved into a house where the last person, according to the little plastic tags that I found in the beds, had planted a lot of tomatoes, and eggplants, and hot peppers. I don't have a very good tolerance for hot peppers. And I don't trust myself to grow eggplants. I've lived too long in cold climates with fussy, fussy mechanics of growing and I'm not naturally good at growing things that aren't already trying to grow themselves.

And so I didn't plant very many of those things. And instead, I planted a few carrots and some borage and let the thing that is probably kale, but might be broccoli, keep growing. And I put in some basil and encouraged the strawberries. And never did harvest any rhubarb because it never turned red. And I don't understand how rhubarb works if it doesn't turn red. Mostly I was mystified and spent a lot of time this summer posting to Facebook going What is this? What is going on? How do I fix it.

I also planted a couple of lavender plants that are finally looking like they actually are alive. But it's taken them most of the summer. I tended the lemon balm patch which is doing just fine on its own. In some ways, it's even managing to outcompete the Japanese knotweed that was along the back fence. Which is great, because cutting back Japanese knotweed is a forever project.

But what I didn't anticipate was all the tomatoes. Everywhere I got a volunteer plant, I just let it volunteer. I didn't try to stop them. But I also didn't know anything about what was coming up. And so I just staked it and crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. I know you're supposed to prune them somehow. But I don't know how I don't know what to take off and what to leave on. I know that some people say that you're supposed to take off the little piece of a branch that grows up in the fork of two other branches.

And I did that for a while and then- and then the middle of summer hit and everything was growing faster than I could keep track of it. I would go inside one night convinced that I had done all the tending I needed to do and come out the next day and everything was everywhere. So I planted two little cherry tomato plants.

Cherry tomatoes, to me, feel more manageable than regular tomatoes. They grow faster. They ripen on a schedule that is possible even in the climates where I've historically lived, which is to say New England. You need something that ripens fast because if it doesn't ripen fast, you just need a lot of recipes for green tomatoes. So I put in a sun gold and a regular. I don't know, it was at the nursery, little round red things. And I've been happily nibbling those at approximately the same rate those two plants have been producing them.

And in their shade I planted some basil which didn't thrive until about a month ago. But these beds are raised because the land here is clay. It's hard, dry, impenetrable clay. Once it stops raining, you can't get a stake in anywhere. The garden beds themselves are made of grow bags and I had hoped to shore them up. But not after it stops raining you can't, because there's no way to get anything into the ground.

So the grow bags have slowly slumped their way through the summer and when it starts to rain again, I'll go get some garden edging and wrap each of them in something more sturdy because I like them. I like them and I think they're doing a good job. And also grow bags don't last forever. But I left some of them unplanted. And some of them I didn't plant until late in the season. And many of them had mystery irises growing in them, also. I'm not sure why the irises are there unless they're there to decorate the beds until the garden starts to garden itself. But I definitely need to do some iris dividing very soon.

Nonetheless, one day I came out and in the middle of my carrots, was a tomato plant. So I left it there and it grew slowly and steadily and produced about three tomatoes. The sort of thing you'd expect from a volunteer tomato plant. On the other hand, in one of the other beds where I had planted borage and was thinking about maybe trying something else interesting or exotic, I had amaranth going. So I was thinking maybe, I don't know, hostas. Which are edible, in their young form.

Instead, what I got was two interlocking, wild-eyed, lush, yellow pear tomato plants. And then behind them was the biggest astonishment. When we moved in, the landlord had just torn out an entire, probably three or four foot wide, border of English ivy that had grown up around the edge of the property. And so the edge of the property was basically dirt. It wasn't sure what it wanted to be. And as Robin Wall Kimmerer, talks about, in Braiding Sweetgrass, the colonizer plants had moved in. All of the things that take advantage of sunlight and soil that hasn't been disturbed in a while.

And they were just there, all of them. All of a sudden, one day, there was nothing there, and the next day it was covered. But then up through that, where I was watering, where it was trying to grow things like garlic, and another patch of amaranth. Up through that came these volunteer tomatoes.

And now the back fence borders on somebody else's yard. And they're some big holes back there. So I assume something lives back there and snacks back there and drops half eaten fruit back there and probably drops fully digested fruit back there, too.

But whatever happened to it, there was one seed that just got it into its head that it was going to take over the world. And it did. It grew into a five foot tall, five foot wide, giant tomato plant. Again, a yellow pear, maybe they're particularly enthusiastic. I don't know.

That one's interesting, because I haven't gotten most of the fruit from it, it is bearing fruit. There are lots of green tomatoes on it. But by the time they're yellow, they're gone. So somebody is feasting back there, but that's actually fine because if they're feasting, they're they're not feasting in the rest of my garden.

And here's the thing, I didn't plant them, I didn't anticipate the yard being perfect for tomatoes. That plant is growing in that clay soil. The only difference between that clay and all the rest of the clay that clay is getting watered. But there have been no fertilizers, no amendments, no additions. It just decided that it was the right place and the right time and so it grew.

And sometimes that's what we do best, as intensives. Is we look at what's happening. And we enjoy the fruits of the labors of the interlocking systems of which we are a part. Not the bad ones, those we get really annoyed at. But the good ones. But the good ones.

And so often the world that we move in asks us to resist. Asks us to mold, to make our whatever is around us malleable. So that we can imagine and create from scratch as though we are carving into an absolutely uniform block of plaster. But we are not. We live in a world where everything is live and interlocked.

I did not intend to grow a lot of nightshades. But here I am tending this enormous patch of enthusiastic tomatoes. So okay, I guess we're growing nightshades. I don't know if you can do the usual green tomato things with yellow pear tomatoes if they're green, but if we get an early frost, I'm going to find out.

I tried to grow cucumber, it barely made it. I'm trying to grow a butternut squash. It's barely making it. Those are probably failed experiments. It may be that the next best thing for me to do is take those out and plant something that grows better here.

I'm going to grow hostas back by the fence if I can get them to thrive in that soil. But maybe I should also put them in one of these little round beds and grow them like a perennial salad green.

If this is the soil, if these are the conditions that are perfect for nightshades- those cherry tomatoes that I bought that were 10 inches tall are now taller than I am. Then maybe I give in. Maybe that's why the last person grew so many nightshades because the night shades wanted to grow here.

One of the things that we get to know about ourselves is what we are likely to not continue to do. Intensives, we are 80% people. We do 80% of the work, and then we stop. Because we're bored, because it's not interesting anymore, because it's become routine. Now routines can be useful and comforting and soothing. And routines can help us do things that we really need to do. And also there's a limit to how much routine we can put ourselves through.

So early in the summer, I installed an irrigation system, one of those ones with lots of hosing and I spent, I don't know more money than I expected. Probably $150 on hoses and sprayers and figuring it all out. And it's not perfect. But it does work. It's on a timer, it makes everything wet twice a day. And that's important.

I knew that I wasn't going to keep watering every day even though I was extremely enamored of it in the beginning. And I knew I was going to feel terrible if I didn't. So I put in a watering system. And the places in the garden that are struggling the most, are the places where the watering system is not working the most.

We get to work not only with what the environment wants to do, but with what we want to do. What is easiest and most obvious to us. If you know, like you know that you know, that you only use a planner for about a month or two before you drop it, you have two choices, three choices.

You can decide not to use a planner. You can decide to use it and then drop it and possibly feel guilty for it or not. You can use it as a springboard. To use it to get set up to do something else to help you understand the shape of your year and then stop and allow that to be okay. Or you can decide you're going to start up a new planner every two or three months.

Just plan to buy four planners, buy four planners right away and decide which order you're going to use them in. Or buy four planners over the course of the year and allow what planners are available toward the end of the year to determine which planner you're going to use. Or close out with a bullet journal, which is always available. Work with yourself. Allow yourself to have the space you need. That's how we work best.

I didn't ask that yellow pear tomato to grow back there. I didn't think a tomato could thrive back there. I thought it would need lots of sun. There's not lots of sun back there. I thought it would need amended soil. It doesn't have amended soil. And it is by far the biggest plant in the yard.

Whatever it's having, I want everybody to have. Except that everybody needs different things. So what's thriving for you? What does it look like? What does it feel like? What is the garden telling you it wants to do? And how can you help it do that?

Thanks for tuning in.




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