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Tending Tomatoes in Texas

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The defining moment came during a recent October thunderstorm. We were asleep when the room suddenly lit with jagged light and rain hammered the window above our bed.

My wife woke from a deep sleep, turned to me, and said, ``Oh no, I meant to bring the tomatoes in.''

I looked at the clock. A fluorescent 3:17 shimmered in the darkness. ``They'll be fine,'' I said, closing my eyes. But soon they reopened. I had visions of bright-red cherry tomatoes floating past the wildflowers, around the garage, and toward the street.

Perhaps we have put too much of ourselves into growing tomatoes.

Later, we checked on our tomatoes. The plants were just fine. Sodden and leaning a bit, but fine. Quarter-size fruit, bright red and glistening with rainwater, peeked through the green.

We grow tomatoes because it's all we can grow. In our part of south Texas, the sun shines nearly 300 days of the year. It seems like such a waste not to grow something. So we keep trying. We continue to be amazed that such simple acts as placing seeds in earth, adding a little water, and subtracting the weeds and bugs result too often in something that turns brown and dies - except the tomatoes. It is a humbling experience.

Although both my parents were raised on farms, they left at the first opportunity. Neither passed down any rudimentary agricultural skills, though my father still occasionally describes the joys of chopping cotton in north Texas during the Depression.

Ginny, my bride, grew up on a farm. So I defer to her wisdom on such things as planting times, soil quality, and early frosts.

We had no mutual interest in growing things until we bought our first and only house 14 years ago. At first, we went whole hog. We rented a rototiller, tearing up whole chunks of our small backyard. We tilled rows and planted peas, carrots, radishes, bell peppers, and tomatoes. Along the garage wall, we planted four little corn plants. We watered. We weeded. Hoping to be environmentally correct, we didn't use insecticides.

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