Consider this your tomato update.
I planted too many. I know right, who knew? But I tried this time, I really did. The three I planted in the raised bed by the back door were perfectly spaced when they were little. But then they grew.
Do you know how to grow tomatoes? You pinch off the side shoots so that you have a tall, spindly plant tied to a stake with 6 – 8 wee bunches of tomatoes on the whole thing. It always feels a bit brutal, nipping off all that new growth, but it’s how it’s done, so it’s what you do.
I am always diligent early on. I’m there in my pj’s, cuppa in hand, cautiously tiptoeing around slugs nestling in the grass – getting slug-guts off when you’ve squished them in bare feet is a morning ritual I can forgo. But I’m there, death stares at slugs, whispering sweet nothings to the tomatoes.
Going on holiday started it.
Home alone for two weeks in a heat wave that was broken by a week of rain, the tomatoes loved it. They kicked back, it was the holidays after all. Like kids whose new school uniform has just arrived, they went crazy and shot up. Suddenly side shoots that should have been pinched out got side shoots. The three plants by the back door joined forces and became a barricade, studded with green glistening fruit.
The canes I’d erected early in the season were no match for the beasts that now grew. The tomatoes laughed in their face, before snapping them in half and tumbling over the edges of beds in search of freedom.
Returning from holiday it was too late to pinch out. I needed a ladder. I could no longer see stem from side shoot. I tried to restore order but with a grandson in tow, there were paddling pools to inflate, stories to read, Top trumps to be played. And a visiting grandson top trumped my darling tomatoes.
But here’s the thing.
This is unequivocally not how you should grow tomatoes. And yes, I do have a different excuse each year as the tomatoes get away from me, lassoed into one giant patch to keep them from spilling onto the path.
But they are covered in fruit, I mean there are loads of tomatoes. Maybe not as many as if I had maintained control, but still more than enough for what we need.
And the tomatoes are just doing their thing.
Am I just imposing some kind of heteronormative western standard of tomato beauty – expecting them to be literally stick thin, tied to a stake, all their joy and growth and natural beauty pinched out?
This is not how they want to grow.
They want to spread, they are generous, holding up their neighbours in a drunken sprawl. And this spreading covers all the soil in shade, keeping in the precious moisture as we head into a drought.
Like taking off a biting bra when you walk into the house, my tomatoes are free.
Have I been fat shaming my tomatoes all these years?
Instead of the inadequacy I feel as a gardener, as once again they escape me, maybe I should celebrate my little love apples’ liberation.
Instead of worrying what the neighbours think, maybe I should take courage from the tomatoes – grow as I need to grow, stumble drunkenly, let others hold me up, spread my arms up to the sun and just be.
Who am I to pinch out anyone’s side shoots?
Namaste tomatoes, you get me every year.