If you want to see a happy face, watch someone eat the first tomato of the season. There is an unparalleled bliss to that first burst of juice blasting through the crisp skin of the fruit. And this is no secret. I know several people who grew up thinking they didn’t like tomatoes until they had one fresh and in season. It seems paradoxical that a crop that is almost literally everywhere is also one that can be deemed untouchable when not purchased from the source.
I have a very personal connection to tomatoes. Aside from growing up with them front and center of just about every meal, tomatoes are the first plant I learned to tend to. Tomatoes grow side shoots generally referred to as “suckers” because they suck energy away from fruit production. When maintaining tomato plants it’s important to regularly inspect the plant and cut off these suckers. I’ve always found this to be a fun process, going through the one or two plants friends and family will have in porch pots or side gardens.
Here at Sisters Hill Farm it’s absolutely meditative. Our hoop house tomato plants are bursting with life, practically reaching out for love and attention. Tending the tomatoes means getting down to the level of the plant and inspecting the whole plant. It means taking the time to check each branch and acknowledge its benefit or detriment to the plant. Suckers are not always small. When left too long between prunings, suckers can grow to the same thickness as the main stalk and even sometimes start flower clusters of their own. In tending to the whole plant, you sometimes have to take the difficult action of cutting off what looks like a vibrant, thriving branch.
Going plant to plant and making the decision to cut and prune for the betterment of the plant gives you time to think. In taking away suckers from the tomato plants, I have time to think about suckers in my own life, tangential thoughts or stresses that at first glance seem part of me, but on closer inspection only take away from my overall well-being. At the end of my work I can look out with pride on the hoop house while also feeling personally lighter.
As you probably know, the tomatoes are not ripe yet [Ed. – Ella originally wrote this in early July.] While we collectively wait for the fruits to turn a beautiful vibrant red, we can think about the suckers in our lives, and how we can get rid of them to further our growth.
–Ella Schwarzbaum, Sisters Hill Farm apprentice (edited with permission)