The way out here

The magic touch

Posted 7/19/23

Five months, two days and 13 hours. That’s how long it had been since we planted our tomato plants—seeds in the basement under the nurturing climate control of heat mats, fans and …

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The way out here

The magic touch

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Five months, two days and 13 hours. That’s how long it had been since we planted our tomato plants—seeds in the basement under the nurturing climate control of heat mats, fans and water-seeping trays.

The seeds sprouted, slowly but surely as all tomatoes do, at least those with the will to live.

They grew into small seedlings, stout and strong in their trays, rustling under the breeze of the fan and glowing under the rays of the lamps.

Then came the day in early spring, before the ground outside was ready to be planted, when we transplanted our tomatoes into the greenhouse. It was filled with freshly tilled mixed soil bursting with the nutrients of the recently added composted manure.

One by one they were nestled into the planting furrow, giving their stem and roots plenty of coverage as tomatoes like. A trail of phosphate was fed to them before we covered their infantile roots with fluffy soil.

Soon they began to reach upward, and we came through, added their stringers and clipped them up to give them support as they quickened their pace for growth.

Week after week I tended to each one, pruning the suckers and adding clips to aid in their development, thinking all the while of the fruit that all this effort was for.

These plants of mine grew until they were as tall as my chest, then my head, and now as I write this they tower in excess of nine feet tall, testing the very height of the greenhouse itself.


All of this has been exciting and even thrilling to watch and be a part of, save for the suspicious absence of a very important element—the tomatoes.

Even with all my coddling, the plants I nurtured were not producing the fruit I thought they should be. I checked YouTube for ideas to get them to fruit. I perused our books, thinking I might need to feed them more fertilizer or give them water more regularly.

I made adjustments and kept my eyes peeled, but couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing. The plants were healthy; they had everything they could want, but inside that greenhouse, both they and the cucumbers seemed all about making leaves and not tasty veggies.

Then I saw a short 60-second video talking about pollination. I had considered pollination as a possible problem, but given my weekly pruning and the daily breezes that came through the greenhouse, I thought perhaps there would be enough pollination.

The video I watched talked about shaking your plants a bit every morning when you open your greenhouse. There was a bit more to it, but for simplicity’s sake, all the fella did was walk through and give each hanging vine a sharp slap to make the leaves and flowers quiver.

Thinking to myself that this was so simple I couldn’t afford not to try it, I began the very next day by opening the greenhouse for the day and walking through the aisles, slapping each plant along the way. I took the time to even do the cucumbers, since they were also so unproductive.

I didn’t think I would see anything very quickly, since much of gardening involves time and patience, but to my utter surprise, just two days in, I began seeing a sharp uptick in new fruit starting to form.

By four days, some of the cucumbers were ready to pick, and at five days I began to see stringers of cherry tomatoes that had almost fully ripened, and slicing tomatoes that were well on their way.

I had changed nothing else all week, and the last time we added fertilizer was almost two weeks in the past.

I was so excited by what I saw I even went out and started slapping around the summer squash and zucchini plants to see if they would do anything more.

I don’t know how much of this translates to other plants, but you can believe the next time I start getting impatient with a plant to produce, I might just have to play Mr. Mean Guy and slap those plants around a little.

The way out here we don’t go looking for conflict, but when an obstinate plant decides to hold out on us for no good reason, they’re going to learn to fear the consequences.

All joking aside, it’s nice to know that some problems have such simple solutions. Whether it’s computers or vegetables, a little mechanical recalibration never hurt anyone.

tomatoes, farming


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