Mmmmmm. Tomato season has just started in my garden, and there is really nothing better than a garden-fresh tomato: juicy, sweet and tender. I grew up believing I didn’t like tomatoes, but it turns out what I don’t like are mealy, mushy, pale grocery-store versions of tomatoes. Since discovering just how delightful a garden tomato can be, I’ve become a bit of a tomato aficionado – once it’s tomato season, I put tomatoes in and on everything.
So, I was delighted this week to bring my first tomatoes in from the garden. They are on the small side and late this year – we had several cool nights in June that stunted them a bit. As we sunk our teeth into that first BLT of the summer, I started to do the math. It’s a good thing that tomato tasted amazing, because near as I can figure, each tomato I grow this summer will cost me about $12 – that’s the cost of the garden beds (which will eventually “pay for themselves” in a decade or so), my time in the garden, my tomato starts, water for the garden and the tomato food that I feed them when I remember. (Importantly, this cost does not include the cost of other unanticipated garden shop purchases of flowers and still more flowers that I tend to make when I go to purchase tomato plants.)
Thankfully, I don’t garden because it’s economical. I don’t even garden for the fresh tomatoes – I know I can get delicious garden-fresh produce at the weekly farmers market. I garden because the older I get, the more pure joy and satisfaction I get from something as simple as caring for a plant in the dirt.
I really can’t explain the excitement I feel upon seeing those first little green seedlings push through the soil and extend their tiny leaves to the sun. Euphoria is perhaps the closer word. I believe in miracles because I feel like every little dormant seed that sprouts is a miracle. Despite millennia of evidence that sprouting is the singular function of seeds, I am nevertheless thrilled when I witness the tiny green leaves that are proof of this miracle each spring.
If you can share these tiny miracles with children, even better. Let them believe the magic. Encourage them to witness the transformation from tiny seed to sprout to leafy plant to full-grown tomato that they can harvest and eat. Yes, a garden is wonderful for teaching all manner of science lessons. But a garden also teaches us about trusting the process, about potential and growth. It teaches us that despite the sheer frivolity of growing a $12 tomato, time in the garden is time well spent.