All aboard the hot mess express.
While I tend to highlight the fun, the funnies, and the lighthearted joys that come along with running this lil produce business... I'd be leaving out a big part of the story if I didn't let you in on some of the messy parts. And I'm afraid it'd be a disservice to us all to paint a picture that is unrealistic.
Growing tomatoes has always been a little more than simply gardening for me. It's been an emotional investment that has stretched me in oh so many ways. I've learned valuable life lessons about farming and life and business, been stretched physically, and learned more about Jesus than you'd ever imagine. I never expected myself to connect with plants the way that I have, but here we are!
One semester of college I found myself in a particularly odd class that assigned me the task of writing a ten-page-paper about an "epic struggle" in my life. So I presented the professor with an essay explaining how my college experience was parallel to the struggles of a tomato's growing season. Needless to say, the professor didn't quite know what to do with me... but that's a story for another day.
Each year I have felt the weight of the struggle a tomato plant faces. They are sensitive plants and tend to be susceptible to SO much. I admire their resilience and strength and how they fight. Some may view their sensitivity as weakness, but I think it just shows are tough they really are. I think it's rather admirable.
But more than ever, this year has been a HOT MESS. Cold temperatures. Soil deficiencies. Strong winds. Rain. More rain. Flooding. Irrigation issues.
About 1/3 of my plants just have not faired well. At all.
We originally wrote it off as being stunted by the harsh elements. But as time went on, that theory just didn't hold up. That spurred on a deep dive investigation into our irrigation system. We found some minor issues, but nothing that could have caused the damage we were experiencing. But I did significantly increase my knowledge of drip irrigation systems, so I reckon that's a good thing.
But alas, two months later it clicked. The case was cracked and I was able to pinpoint what was causing such troubles for my struggling plants.
This time last year, the field where the tomatoes are planted now was planted in sunflowers. But not just any sunflowers. We plant these magical Clearfield sunflowers. That means you can spray the sunflower field with an herbicide and it will kill the grass and weeds that are growing, and not kill the sunflowers! Amazing stuff!
The bad news is, that specific herbicide had a residual effect and can remain in the soil for quite some time. Unfortunately my ever sensitive tomatoes picked up on that and were damaged.
The prognosis is not hopeful. While the plants will continue to live, they will not recover and most likely not produce.
Yes, I'm heartbroken. Yes, it's frustrating to know we caused this harm. But goodness I am glad to have answers. It was a longgg two months of trying to pinpoint what had gone wrong. We had exhausted all of our ideas and didn't know what else to try. In our 10+ years of growing tomatoes we had never encountered something like this.
As unfortunate as this situation has been, there is good that has come out of it. I have learned SO much this year. Investigating this year's issues has led me to deep dive into growing techniques/soil recommendations/irrigation options/and the list goes on. I decided to take on more plants this year, and stagger the planting, which means I hopefully come out right at where I was last year, as far as number of plants goes! I will continue to have a roof over my head and food in my belly. The Lord is still good!
I won't lie and say there haven't been tears. Believe me, they've flowed freely. Being removed from college life rather abruptly, thrown into adult life a little sooner than expected, and coming home to a tragic growing season amongst a pandemic has been nothing short of a wild ride. But I'm left with no choice but to press on. This too shall pass.
Habakkuk 3:17-19 has been a set of verses that I have leaned into throughout the tough seasons I've faced the past few years. They always remind me of my redemptive summers at home and what God has taught me in the garden. Those verses have encouraged me to lean into the goodness of God even when things seem to be spiraling. But never have those verses encouraged me through a failing crop, like the verses allude to, until this year.
So I will leave you with this. Maybe you're a little wind-blown, flooded, desperately needing warmer days, ankle deep in mud, or damaged by something that was intended for good. Life's a little funky right now, my tomatoes would certainly agree with you. But here's to clinging to the truth that someday soon we'll look back on these days and see the growth and just how far we've come. The Lord is near to you in this season and every season to come.