At the prodding of a friend, we decided to build a raised bed garden in our side yard. I really didn’t have to be prodded much, since I love fresh garden vegetables, especially tomatoes. This love goes back to summers of my childhood spend on my grandparent’s farm in Murfreesboro, TN, where sliced garden tomatoes were served with every meal but breakfast. Since then, I have never been able to slice and eat a store-bought, box-ripened tomato. Not comparable. Not possible.
My love of tomatoes softened the blow of the time and money that building a raised bed garden requires. I bought the lumber and constructed a four foot by twelve foot frame, ten inches high. Friends on a nearby farm donated two trailer loads of composted manure, which had to be picked up, unloaded, and spread. To that sweet soil, I added a recommended cocktail of composts and soils to create the ideal raised bed vegetable-factory.
Next came the seeds and seedlings. The six tomato seedlings were fenced in by three cages on the far right side of the garden. Moving to the left came a row of bell pepper cages. Then came broccoli seedlings, lettuce and spinach sprouts, and finally, on the far left, a couple of rows of green bean seeds.
I had hope for great things. More specifically, I hoped to change my long history of planting gardens that produced sickly fruits with paltry yields. My love of garden fresh vegetables rarely ever matched my ability to grow said vegetables. Maybe, this year would be different.
My green beans showed their usual early promise, sprouting quickly and producing blossoms soon after. The tomato and pepper plants teased me with their quick early growth. The lettuce, spinach, and broccoli began to produce fruit quickly, but just as quickly went to seed. I’ve since been told that they are much better fall plantings. (So, why the heck do they sell them in the spring??!! O.K., I’m over that now.) I began to harvest some green beans, but three meals in, they just dwindled away.
My only remaining hope going into July was my tomatoes and peppers. The peppers looked green and lush, but resisted putting out blossoms and the fruit that follows. The tomatoes were a different story altogether. Also lush and green, they produced mega-blossoms which were cast aside by dozens of tiny tomatoes. Then came the July rains, more rain in fact than we have ever had in any previous July.
The tomatoes went wild…literally. My plants climbed through and over my powerless cages. They traveled to the right climbing back down outside the cage and into my yard. They traveled to the left, burying the pepper cages, leaving them to attempt survival with only the scantest sunlight. My tomato plants, each over 10 feet long, owned the garden. It gets funnier.
On the far left side of my garden, two snaking tomato plants emerged from the ground, where I had most certainly not planted tomatoes. They just appeared. Within weeks, these snaking vines were weaving their way all across the garden bed, producing dozens and dozens of grape tomatoes, which my wife absolutely loves.
By the end of July, my tomato plants were allowing us to have tomatoes for every meal except breakfast, though I think we may have worked them into an omelet or two. I began counting the tomatoes we picked. At last count, we had picked over 180 tomatoes (not counting the grape tomatoes picked, which would also number in the hundreds). This does not include the tomatoes stolen by squirrels who would then taunt me, eating the tomatoes sitting in plain sight on the branches of my trees and occasionally dropping them on my car. I digress.
So, a week or two ago, we get an unexpected knock on our door. Knocks on our door are very, very common, but not at 10:30 at night. I hesitantly approached the door. Through the window, I could see an older looking gentleman fidgeting on our front porch. I slowly opened the door.
“My name is Wilson*, and I live under the bridge just down the street here. My grandmother lives one street over, and we were wondering if we could have some of your green tomatoes, so she could fry them up?” “Uh, you want to pick tomatoes right now?” “Yessir, but I won’t take a whole lot.” “Uh, o.k., Wilson, you can take some tomatoes.”
As the sun broke the horizon the next morning, I hurried outside to check my tomatoes. I discovered that Wilson’s definition of “a whole lot” was different than mine. I was bothered, but it was less about the number of missing tomatoes. I was wrestling with the same feeling I had encountered several times during the summer when Joy, flashing her winsome smile, would give away our tomatoes to this neighbor or that: “We’d love for you to have some of our tomatoes!”
You see the truth, don’t you? I have a hard time giving away ANY of my tomatoes. MY tomatoes. And that’s the little problem God immediately brought to my attention. I struggle to give away tomatoes that grew in soil that was given to me, that were showered with a record twelve inches of rain that kept me from ever needing to water them, that flourished in sunshine I did not produce. AND… two of the tomato-laden vines I didn’t even buy or plant! Could God have made it any clearer?
Like every good thing in my life, the tomatoes are a gift of grace from God’s hand. Sure, He loves for me to enjoy His tomatoes, but He also loves me to give them away, just like He gave them to me. Maybe one day I’ll learn. Until then, I think I’ll grow rutabagas. Nobody likes rutabagas, not even squirrels.