One of the hardest parts about vegetable gardening is waiting for the harvest . . . putting in all the hard work, and then waiting for months for the produce to ripen. Especially when it comes to tomatoes.
I’ve learned that tomatoes do better for me when I start them from seed myself instead of buying them as plants. My plants grow large and produce well while the store-bought ones remain rather stunted and unproductive. (I’m talking about plants you buy from a place like Wal-mart or Menards. I’m sure that a good plant nursery is much more dedicated to raising their plants right than a big, chain store. So buy your tomatoes from a good nursery if you don’t want to start from seed.)
I firmly believe that when a store gives them way too much fertilizer way too early or forces abundant growth before its time, it stresses the plant and actually weakens it later. But if a plant is allowed to grow at its own pace and properly fed at the right times, it will be stronger in the end. Not too unlike people.
Our lives have a rhythm, too, and we go through various seasons of life, and all of these are important to our growth. If we force ourselves into situations we cannot handle before it is time or if we rush God’s timing because we are anxious for the next phase, we will suffer for it in the end because we will not be strong enough to handle it. Just look at the Bible and all the long times of waiting and of refining trials that God’s people went through before He called them into the position He was grooming them for.
Anyway, I digress. All of this to say that I don’t feel it’s wise to rush God’s timing, in life or with my tomato plants. And so in the middle of March, I start a big tray of vegetable seedlings in my dining room under some grow lights. Sweet peppers and tomatoes.
I have to watch them carefully for almost 2 months: watering them every couple days, brushing across the tops of them lightly with my hand to strengthen their stems, turning them so that they get enough sun and light all over.
And this continues until early-May, when I take a week or so to gradually introduce them to the great outdoors. Shady place for a half-hour the first day. Shady place for an hour the second. Longer hours in the shade. Then filtered sun for a bit. Then filtered sun for hours. Then full sun. Until finally, they can be outside full time in full sun. If you don’t do this right, you can easily kill the whole batch. I’ve lost them before to too much sun too quickly. Their tender, pampered, home-grown tissues can’t handle too much sun, wind, and rain. So they need to be introduced to them slowly so that they can learn how to tolerate the harsh realities of life.
And by mid-May, they are ready for the garden. On a calm, cloudy day, I take them all outside and nestle them into their new homes, first filling their holes with some life-giving substances: a banana peel, bone meal, crushed eggshells, and a sprinkle of organic fertilizer.
And then for months afterward, I check on them daily to see how they are doing. If the sun is coming on too strong too early, I cover the newly planted babies with a little newspaper tent during the hottest part of the day. I water them at least every other day when it gets hot (occasionally twice a day when it’s really hot and dry). I tie them up as they grow. I clip off extra growth that will suck energy from fruit production. I scout for pests.
And then, after months of investing in these plants, I begin to see the beginnings of the rewards for all my attention and hard work and planning as tiny little green orbs begin to grow from the yellow blossoms. And I watch for weeks as these orbs grow larger. And I water and weed and tie and scout some more. And then finally in July/August - about 4 months after starting them as seeds and 2 months after planting them outside - I’ll see the first red blush on the first ripening tomato. And what a sight that is! The first glimpse of the coming reward for all my efforts, after months of waiting.
And then in August and September, it’s tomato after tomato after tomato. We eat them fresh right out of the garden. Chop them into Simple Tomato Salsa. Dehydrate dozens of them to throw in soups and stews in winter. And (one of my favorite things) share them with the neighbors. It’s blessing after blessing during those months.
But it took months and months of work to get there. Of planning and hoping and tending. Of waiting and trusting that there would be a great harvest later, even if there were nothing but work for a long time before that first red blush. As any gardener knows, all of the work you do in a garden isn’t for immediate results; it’s for future rewards.
Right now in my life, I feel like I feel like I am in that “all work, no harvest” phase. For years, I’ve had unused initials after my name (LPC: Licensed Professional Counselor) because I’ve chosen to stay home to raise (and homeschool) my children. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world, because I know this is where I am supposed to be. I don’t need a job outside the home because this is my God-given job.
But I’ll be honest, most days I feel futile, like a failure, like nothing I do is going to amount to anything. I can’t keep the house clean or please everybody at dinnertime. Homeschooling isn’t matching up to my daydreams about it. (I used to dream that homeschooling would be sitting under a tree and reading books aloud with my kids all gathered around me and nestled up next to me. But in reality, it’s definitely not as sweet and pleasant and organized as that.) I can’t give the kids the kind of extra experiences that I want to because God has allowed us to afford only 1 car for the last many years. So we can’t go anywhere during the day unless it’s in walking distance: no field trips, no homeschooling groups, no visits with friends. I can’t do the things I wish I could: taking walks by myself when I want, finishing any house project I start, going to the bathroom in peace without kids banging on the door. And no matter what I do, I feel like I will fail the kids somehow. Their futures will suffer because of me.
And yet, I trudge on. Planning, tending, watering, pruning, scouting, hoping. Because I have to believe that even if I can’t see it yet, there will be rewards later. That even though it’s not easy, it will all be worth it! That there will be a great harvest eventually!
And so, daily I pray that God takes the little bit that I can do and multiplies it for His glory and purposes. That He makes something out of my weaknesses and shortcomings. That He helps grow my children – His children – into the kind of adults He wants them to be. Because I can only do so much.
And as I wait for that first red blush, I try to do my best with the little bit that I can do. The little bit that God puts in my path daily. And even though I feel like I can never do enough, I try to rest in my hope that God is working it all out for His purposes and glory. And I wait and wait for my efforts to bear fruit. I wait for the day I can look back over all the years of sweat, tears, hard work, and sacrifice and say “Thank You, Lord, for getting me through it. Thank You for the harvest. It was worth it!”