Sometimes mistakes in life take years to undo, or cost a fortune, or end up breaking your heart or body. Most of the time, those mistakes can be learned from, and though dearly earned, that wisdom serves well. Farming mistakes can break your heart, body and bank account too, but at least you get a chance to try whatever it was again not too long after, still smarting from the last fail.
I shoveled a few wheelbarrows-full of rotting tomatoes into the compost this afternoon from our market garden. They had been frozen and thawed a few times over the last couple of months, so their consistency was not very lovely to deal with. These tomatoes could have been harvested, sold, eaten and enjoyed but because they had been so incredibly buried in thick foliage, they were so late in the season and saffron harvest took precedence, and we were all too busy to go battle the vines, they went to waste. Not even the wild birds ate them. Not even our free-range chickens. Wasted potential. Can you tell I haven’t forgiven myself for this yet?
Social media is a great resource for farmers - we get ideas from other growers around the world on innovations, crops, and techniques. We also get to feel envious and frustrated. Other folks’ farms are tidier, more productive, prettier. Oh yeah, that game. Not many people broadcast their mistakes - its the nature of the medium - everything is filtered and curated - I absolutely understand that, but, one can’t help but feel frustrated when a farmer says that they have picked every tomato on their plants well before the first frost, and you see their vines are trimmed and lean and perfect. Ours were so bushy and crazy that at times I thought I would crawl into that jungle of green never to be seen again - panic-inducing chaos. Dang it.
Harvesting the first few weeks of tomato season were insane - the plants were so vigorous and huge that they took over the whole aisle as well as their allotted space. There was just enough room to crawl through on my bottom, looking for ripe fruit in the hopes of having enough to make a few baskets to sell. By the end of the season, it was another problem, soooo many tomatoes all at once and not enough time to pick them all. Our interns would shudder at the mention of tomato harvest.
Summer used to be my favorite season, before farming. Now its winter - its so nice and slow right now! No rushing to try and pick tomatoes when they are perfect, no working till 9pm, no prickly arms from squash leaves, weeds, dirt and sweat. Tomatoes especially may ruin my enjoyment of summer unless I learn how to grow them better! 2020 is going to be the year I learn how to grow tomatoes. You’ve read it here. Let’s see how I do.
First step, research. I am reading and watching videos, and ordering new equipment and reading about how to use it. We are building a hoop house so we can get a jump on the season, and I plan on doing some trelissing and hard pruning in there. Second step, planning exactly what varieties to grow and doing more research. We thought we were being smart and replanted at least 25 plants last season that were “Mystery” volunteer tomato plants we discovered from around the farm - wild birds deposited seeds, seeds grew, we thought, "bonus plants = good!" Nope. Third step, I will have more time in-season to dedicate to tending the growing plants as I am no longer trying to juggle my corporate job and farm - no more weekend-warrior-tomato-grower for me.
What’s the phrase, hindsight is 20/20? It’s so hard to step aside from your assumptions/hopes/vision of how you want things and what will work to think things through and see the pitfalls that lie ahead. I’m trying to now - questioning more, which makes getting things done a little slower and sometimes more frustrating, but hopefully better in the long run. I am absolutely positive I will look back in December 2020 and see blatantly obvious new mistakes I made.
That hugely expensive teacher’s credential degree that I will be paying off the rest of my life even though I was never meant to be a teacher, my previous choices in men that left me heartbroken and pessimistic about the human race, those mistakes I cannot nor do I want a second chance at. No research or planning can undo those. Tomatoes are my salvation! And Simon.